By Staff Sgt. Justin Andras
| Indiana National Guard Public Affairs | May 18, 2020
Maj. John Shepherd, public health officer and Air National Guardsman with the plans team, conducts daily operations at Stout Field, Indianapolis May 6, 2020. The Guard's COVID-19 plans team filled a critical component in organizing specialized teams while protecting the health and safety of soldiers and airmen serving on the frontlines. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Andras)
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indiana National Guard supported local agencies throughout the state to curb virus’s spread and serve during the time of need. The Guard's COVID-19 plans team stationed Stout Field in Indianapolis filled a critical component in organizing specialized teams while protecting the health and safety of soldiers and airmen serving on the frontlines.
"We had to formulate a team of subject matter experts in their fields to create the idea of how the National Guard could mobilize and provide a response needed by the state," said Maj. John Shepherd, public health officer and Air National Guardsman with the plans team. "Behind the scenes, it was our group that took the ideas of what was needed, looked at what we had available and organized groups to create a job function that doesn't organically exist within the Guard."
In March, as Governor Eric Holcomb activated the Indiana National Guard, priorities began to shift towards deploying guardsmen and women to support state agencies. The plans team looked at what some of the neighboring state Guard units were doing to fight the virus.
“With New York being two to three weeks ahead of us, we could project the needs of Indiana. We created our version of response supporting food preparation, warehouse operations, site testing, alternate care site planning and other potential medical support,” said Shepherd, who has served in his position for the last six years.
In order to effectively deploy these teams throughout the state, special considerations helped protect the guardsmen’s health and welfare. The plans team looked at recommendations from organizations such as the CDC, Department of Defense and the National Guard Bureau to determine what levels of protection each mission required. Additionally, strategic teams assembled and trained to deploy at any given moment when called upon by major state agencies.
"This provides safety and security for our stakeholders, the Indiana State Department of Health, Department of Homeland Security and the governor, making sure they know they have an extra layer of resources available to help," said Shepherd. "Also, our communities, families and friends, making sure they know that while we're in the fight and pulled away from them, we're also helping those that need the help."
The amount of legwork and planning required to support the multitude of needs throughout the state required a joint effort between both the Army and Air components of the Indiana National Guard.
"It's so hard to find opportunities to coordinate, cohabitate and collaborate between two different services," said Warrant Officer Paul South, engineer planner with the plans team. "Every opportunity we can take to improve that relationship is so beneficial."
That powerful duo makes the Indiana National Guard so effective at its mission to respond to any challenges and maintain readiness to serve at home and abroad at a moment's notice.
"This is an opportunity to break down all barriers and be a better version of the Indiana National Guard like we've never seen, both Army and Air Force," said Shepherd. "We can capitalize on our strengths in our joint efforts."