When emergencies strike Nebraska, the state often turns to help from a set of men and women remarkable for their versatility: the Nebraska National Guard. That was the case last year when Guard personnel, along with first responders and others, aided Nebraskans threatened by the catastrophic flooding. And it’s the case now as the coronavirus shadow falls across the state.
The Guard’s organizational competence and impressive array of professional skills regularly make these Nebraskans the go-to group to tackle major duties.
A year ago, National Guard helicopter crews swept across flood-ravaged sections of Nebraska to provide hoist rescues of vulnerable adults and children. Conditions often were windy and extreme. Missions took place day and night. Some Guard personnel used airboats to reach people in desperate need. In all, the Guard brought 113 people to safety.
The floodwaters also threatened stranded livestock, and the Guard responded with help for there, too. During the two weeks after the March 2019 floods, the Nebraska Guard dropped 37.5 tons of hay by air and delivered 17.5 tons by ground.
Those mission successes depended heavily on the Guard’s operations staff, who work behind the scenes to coordinate actions.
Now, Nebraska is confronting the coronavirus, one of its greatest challenges ever. It’s imperative to boost testing, especially in hot spot areas where the exposure concern is greatest.
Who to turn to for the mission?
That’s right: Guard personnel are among those now in the forefront. A mobile testing team of 23 soldiers and airmen has been on the ground in Grand Island and other locations, conducting 100 or more tests per day. These Guard personnel are a specialized crew, a joint task force composed of volunteers from numerous units including the 155th Medical Group based in Lincoln and the 72nd CERFP (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package) based in Omaha.
An additional 69 Nebraska Guard members are carrying out another needed mission: helping food banks provide needed supplies to households under stress during this emergency. Duties include helping volunteers pack thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and assemble community packs to be distributed.
All this is in addition to the Nebraska Guard’s longstanding global role in supporting our national security needs abroad. Just a month ago, more than 50 members of the Air Guard’s 155th Air Refueling Wing deployed for service to the U.S. Central Command operating in the Middle East. In December, the Nebraska Guard deployed an 11-member Cyber Protection Team for the first time ever to the Washington, D.C., area (Fort Meade, Maryland), where they are working for U.S. Cyber Command.
When emergencies strike, many Nebraskans step forward to provide vital help. Among the most valuable, indeed, are the members of the Nebraska National Guard.