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Ohio National Guard, State Defense Force to scale back COVID-19 response force

COLUMBUS — The Ohio National Guard and Ohio State Defense Force are transitioning from the emergency COVID-19 response that began in March 2020 to a smaller, yet flexible, response force.

At the request of Gov. Mike DeWine, more than 4,000 members have deployed throughout the past 16 months for approximately 70 missions across the state to assist local, county, and state partners. Among numerous contributions, they assisted in providing more than 360,000 COVID-19 vaccinations; received, packed, and distributed more than 150 million pounds of food and groceries to over 2.9 million Ohioans; and provided temporary medical staffing to more than 30 long-term care facilities.

“In the tradition of the minuteman, each soldier and airman who contributed to the missions while helping their fellow Ohioans did so with little or no notice. It is part of our organization’s DNA to always be ready,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general. “The COVID-19 response mission has affirmed and strengthened their commitment to support this great state and its people.”

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, about 1,000 Ohio service members were deployed to support missions. As of July 19, that number stood at about 180. Among the larger missions was support to 14 food banks, which ended on July 2. Harris has directed the joint task force overseeing COVID-19 missions to continue to scale back by July 30 to a force of about 40 personnel, who will continue providing logistics and vaccination support.

Ohio Air National Guard Col. Gregg J. Hesterman, commander of the joint task force, praised the commitment of the men and women who have answered the call to serve during the pandemic, some for more than a year.

“I can’t say enough about the professionalism from each and every one of the Guard, Military Reserve, and Naval Militia members who have stepped up to successfully complete every mission placed before them,” Hesterman said. “While we are scaling back the COVID-19 response, we remain ready to support vaccination efforts and any additional needs the state may have in the continued fight against this virus.”

Federal funding for the mission is scheduled to continue until the end of September.