Guam Guard ready to continue support for COVID-19 response despite drawdown

BARRIGADA, Guam (April 15, 2020) – Guam National Guard Soldiers and Airmen assigned to Joint Task Force 671 Task Force Response discuss daily operations at the command headquarters at the GUNG Barrigada readiness center April 15. JTF 671 was stood up to support the government of Guam’s efforts to combat COVID-19. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by JoAnna Delfin)

In March, when President Donald Trump authorized the use of federal funding to activate the National Guard in response to COVID-19, he appropriated nearly $5.2 million to the Guam National Guard to assist the local government in its battle against the worldwide pandemic.

Since then, more than $4.7 million has been spent on the activation of Soldiers and Airmen, with nearly $40,000 expended on operations and maintenance.

“The COVID-19 response is the longest Guam National Guard response here at home,” said JTF 671 Commander Col. Ronnie Delfin. However, “I don’t believe it is the largest.  Our numbers at the JTF and for this response hasn’t exceeded 300, unlike Super Typhoon Pongsona, I believe that response activated about 400 of our Guard members for duty.”

DEDEDO, Guam (April 23, 2020) – Col. Ronnie Delfin, Joint Task Force 671 Title 32 deputy dual status commander, discusses traffic control plans with Guam Police Department Chief Stephen Ignacio during an assessment for community COVID-19 testing at the Astumbo Gym in Dededo April 23. The Guam National Guard continues to work with the government of Guam in its effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by JoAnna Delfin)

The GUNG has successfully executed more than 38 missions requested through the government of Guam supporting agencies such as the Department of Public Health and Social Services’ educational traffic campaign; providing security at COVID-19 isolation and quarantine facilities; traffic and crowd management at community testing sites, food distribution sites, and pandemic unemployment assistance sites; disinfection of multiple government facilities’ common public spaces; and various COVID-19 engineering projects throughout the island.

“Spending is based on troops to task,” said Delfin. “We only bring in the number of people we need for a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) mission. The onus is on us to be good stewards; at the end of the day we have to be audit ready. We need to show what missions these Soldiers and Airmen were executing in support of the public health emergency and consistent with the FEMA mission assignment.”

After four months of providing support to the government of Guam and the island community, the Guard is preparing to draw back troops as the president’s memorandum on state and territories’ governors’ use of the National Guard to respond and to facilitate economic recovery is set to end Aug. 21, unless an extension is granted by the president.

“Currently, our orders officially end Aug. 21, but the DoD (Department of Defense) guidance has us off orders by Aug. 7,” said Delfin. “The remaining 14 days is reserved for those who may have to be tested for COVID and quarantined.”

Should the government of Guam require National Guard support after Aug. 21, the GUNG has plans in place if a request comes from the governor.

“We are putting together some estimates to keep a small number of people onboard, if there is no extension,” said Delfin. “One of the options is to revert back to State Active Duty, and if we do that, the personnel we keep will be specific to the quarantine mission.”

Though mission retrograde is in the works, the Guard continues to stand ready to support the local government and the people of Guam to combat any type of disaster whether natural or man made to include the pandemic.

“I believe our island has a lot of pride in the military,” Delfin said. “It’s a part of our history and the pride we have for our sons and daughters who serve. These Soldiers and Airmen are out there serving in the community and although some days may be difficult, they do their absolute best to instill a sense of calmness within our community.”