MADISON, Wis. — Approximately 30 Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard mobilized to state active duty yesterday to support Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services in the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 — or coronavirus — outbreak in Wisconsin.
The National Guard members mobilized to serve as drivers to transport state citizens returning to Wisconsin from a cruise ship with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
None of the returning citizens have tested positive for COVID-19, and all are asymptomatic, but the citizens will be returning to their homes to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Those citizens are returning to the state at a date, time, and location yet to be determined, but when they arrive in Wisconsin, Wisconsin National Guard members will be standing by waiting to transport them to their homes via state vehicles.
Gov. Tony Evers cleared the way for National Guard support to DHS and civil authorities in declaring a public health emergency during a news conference Thursday. The emergency declaration gives the adjutant general the authority to mobilize National Guard resources to state active duty as he deems necessary or upon request from state or local emergency managers.
The troops, consisting of approximately 20 Soldiers and 10 Airmen from Wisconsin National Guard units that make up the Guard’s CERFP — or Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package — will be awaiting the arrival of the citizens returning to Wisconsin from the cruise. After they arrive in Wisconsin, they’ll be greeted by DHS personnel before Guard members transport them back to their homes.
The 30 troops were all sourced from Soldiers and Airmen who volunteered for the mission in a matter of hours. Serving during times of need and emergency is one of the National Guard’s core missions. It simultaneously serves as the primary combat reserve for the Army and Air Force.
“It gives me a sense of fulfillment of what I enlisted for, which was to help the people of the state of Wisconsin,” said Cpl. Jose Perezvilla, a member of the CERFP assigned to the 457th Chemical Company based in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
He noted that Guard members train continuously to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
“Now we actually get to put some of that into action and help pit the people of the state,” he said.
Airman 1st Class Matthew Ascher, a medic assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing’s Medical Group in Madison, Wisconsin, agreed.
“I know that a lot of my friends and family are you know scared of this virus, and it means a lot to be able to help out,” he said.
“I love it,” he added. “I jumped right on it as soon as they called me. I think it’s outstanding — just the amount of people that quickly volunteered.”
DHS representatives were grateful for the Guard’s assistance, noting that the citizens returning from the cruise are tired and anxious to get back home.
“We really appreciate you stepping up to take these people home,” DHS’s Joe Cordoba said to the Wisconsin Guard troops reporting for duty Thursday. “It’s been a long trip for them.”
Lt. Col. Josephine Daniels, the Wisconsin National Guard’s current operations branch chief, expressed her appreciation to the Soldiers and Airmen as well.
“It is really impressive when you have a callout and you get the kind of response and volunteerism we did,” she told the group. “You should be tremendously proud that you stepped up and answered the call and you said, ‘send me,’ when your state needed you.”
Troops that participate in the mission will follow Center for Disease Control and DHS protocols, and out of an abundance of caution, will self-monitor for 14 days following the mission, even though the individuals they are transporting have not tested positive for COVID-19 and are asymptomatic.
“The Wisconsin National Guard stands ready to assist the state in whatever way we can with additional missions, if requested, and we are fully committed to supporting the state and DHS as we all work together to protect public health and safety,” Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, said during Thursday’s news conference.