The Vermont National Guard announced Friday that it has begun calling up members to active duty to help the state respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gen. Greg Knight told senators during a conference call that two part-time soldiers have been placed on active duty to help with emergency planning in the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury.
In addition, five airmen would be activated over the weekend to begin preparing to distribute supplies next week if necessary, Knight said. Gov. Phil Scott’s emergency declaration last week gave Knight the power to call up troops as needed in consultation with state emergency officials.
Knight said the guard has the capability to activate 125 members to service within 4 hours, and 550 members within 24 hours.
“We’re well postured to respond when asked,” Knight told the Senate Government Operations Committee Friday.
Knight didn’t offer much detail during the call, saying only that the planners were working on “the medical planning process.” Having guard members working directly with the state’s emergency managers “better informs us so we can be proactive in the response, so we’re not waiting for the ask.”
Guard spokesperson Capt. Mike Arcovitch said the job of those planners is to help state officials understand the guard’s “capacity relative to construction of additional medical facilities if there were to be overflow from hospitals.” Archovitch said he didn’t have additional information about those plans Friday afternoon.
The five airmen called up will be managing the state's inventory of personal protective equipment and replenishing it from the the strategic national stockpile, said Mark Bosma, spokesperson for Vermont Emergency Management.
The state has reported a shortage of equipment needed to fight the spread of COVID-19, and the federal government has agreed to bolster the supplies from the stockpile, a $7 billion trove of masks, medicine, vaccines and more that might be needed in a national health emergency.
Senators expressed concern about the impact on other services if the 3,400-strong state guard called people to active duty. Many guard members are also in local law enforcement, fire and medical services.
“When the guard is called out, how do we make sure that we aren’t depleting our emergency management services and other essential services?” asked Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham).
Knight said the guard takes people’s professions into account when deciding when and whether to call them to active duty for state service.
“If we’ve got folks in infrastructure or medical professionals, first responders, and law enforcement, they’re better served, as we are as a state, by having them work in their civilian professions,” Knight said.