The soldiers have to do this tough job. Their deployment to the Middle East in November was just one of many missions that the Louisiana National Guard and America’s citizen-soldiers have had to face over the past 18 months.
Guard members are called up to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters. Many have had to spend months away from their civilian jobs, and they are now spending less time with their families. Although Guard leaders claim that troops are positive, they worry about fatigue and wonder how long U.S. businesses will be able to survive without their long-absent workers.
In Louisiana, Sergeant. 1st Class Bray Harris, a soldier back in Louisiana, has been staying in Baton Rouge hotels since March 2020 to provide COVID-19 testing for residents and the vaccine. He has only been able two hours away from Lake Charles to race home, and to evacuate his mother during one major storm that hit the state.
Nearby Camp Beauregard, Capt. Michael Switzer has been resting in his office for the past 15 months. He and his soldiers have been juggling security and work at the virus testing sites, road clearance, emergency supply deliveries during storms, and distribution of the vaccine for the past 15 month. His wife purchased him a cot with a foam mattress of 5-inch thickness and a mattress for Father's Day.
The country's Guard units have been struggling to cope with national crises since March 2020. When the pandemic broke out, they were immediately tapped to conduct testing, build hospitals in remote areas, provide healthcare and eventually deliver vaccines. Many were faced with record-breaking storms and hurricanes, while also having to take weeks off their jobs to defend their communities from the race riots. To protect the president's inauguration, more than 26,000 Guard personnel deployed to Washington, D.C.
General Dan Hokanson of the National Guard Bureau stated that "this past year was an exceptional one for the National Guard." Is he concerned about the possibility of exhaustion? "That's something that I have been very concerned about right from the beginning."
He said that the Guard troops were upbeat as he made his rounds and told him "Hey, that's what we signed up for." However, across the US, there is growing concern about troops returning to their regular jobs and getting back to crucial training schedules.
Desormeaux's year started with the pandemic. His soldiers were deployed to New Orleans to build a hospital for 2,000 people at the Memorial Convention Center. Others set up testing stations and delivered kits to various locations throughout the state.
In June, Tropical Storm Cristobal arrived in Louisiana. It was the first of six named hurricanes or storms to strike the state in the last year. As the hurricane season was ending, Desormeaux's 256th Infantry Brigade left Louisiana and headed for Syria.
He said that it was "probably the most difficult two-year period you'll find," to reporters, who were accompanied by Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie (top commander for the Middle East). "But it really speaks to their dedication and professionalism because they were there every step.
Harris, who moved in to the Doubletree Hotel in Baton Rouge for his Guard logistics post in March 2020, didn't realize that he would be leaving his job as a transportation and development officer at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for fifteen months. He's been back to Lake Charles several times during that time to check on his properties and to get his mother safe from major storms.
Harris said that he was unable to catch a breath for over a year and had to sell his property due to flooding from Hurricane Delta. He didn't have the time or resources to fix it. My leaders supported me in all ways, and they let me go to my mother's house whenever I needed. They allowed me to secure my property after the storm.
Switzer stated that Switzer didn't want "to tap into those already providing emergency services." "So, we faced challenges because we didn't use our first responders as they are also fighting this in another capacity."
He said that these limitations reduced their troop pool and was further aggravated by Guard members who suddenly contracted COVID-19 or were forced to quarantine due to being exposed. He said that the Guard emphasized calling in unemployed soldiers first. This included some who had worked on oil rigs.
Switzer stated that many of the laid-off oilfield workers would return to work and continue their education until they are able to get back into the field. "We were able give them employment. They not only helped us meet our mission but also provided employment for their families.
Maj. Verdis Walker was called up for storm duty in April 2020. Maj. Verdis Walker was called up to storm duty in April 2020. He had been at the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Department. He moved into his RV in central Louisiana, where he lived for most of the year before transferring to pandemic duty. He now lives in Carville Guard Barracks, near Baton Rouge. There he is the senior enlisted advisor for the Louisiana Guard's COVID-19 taskforce.
He stated that the greatest challenge for troops is to maintain a positive attitude, a balanced lifestyle and keep their Guard duty, professional jobs, and families together. He takes time off to drive the four-hours north to his home and to the sheriff's office so he can continue his weapon qualification and other certifications.
Walker stated, "Fortunately for me I have a sheriff who is very military-friendly in my town, and he's very supportive to the military efforts." He understands that when there are storms or other emergencies, people need to be there to help.
Hokanson stated that the strains experienced in the past year have not affected retention.
For the fiscal year that began in October, the Army Guard has reached its goal of 336,000. He said that a slight shortfall in recruitment has been compensated by higher retention numbers, and an increase of active-duty soldiers moving to the Guard.
Hokanson stated that Guard members will become more needed at home as more businesses reopen.
"A lot of our soldiers, airmen, and those who may not have been employed, or were furloughed in that time period, are asking them to return to work," he stated, adding that all states' adjutants must manage the troops' operations and training over the next months.
Hokanson stated, "We asked many of them." "Now, the states want to concentrate on building their combat readiness. They also want to get back to that balance between their civilian careers, their military careers and their families."
Harris will return to his Transportation Department job once his orders have been completed. Harris has been assured that the job will be available when he returns, but while he is away, his Guard mission continues.
"I knew I had a mission, and that the state of my country depended upon me. He said that there was never any question about "How do I do this?" It's allowed me to develop as a leader and feel like I am making a real difference.