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South Dakota National Guard looks back on COVID response

The South Dakota National Guard has been a crucial part in South Dakota’s response to the COVID pandemic.
Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 11:28 PM MDT
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PIERRE, S.D. (KEVN) - “Front line workers” across all kinds of industries have been essential to bringing an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the contributors to those efforts have been the men and women of the South Dakota National Guard (SDNG), who have sacrificed thousands of hours over the course of the last year and a half to help combat COVID-19.

Efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the South Dakota National Guard going on its longest consecutive period of active duty service in the history of the state.

Major General Jeffrey Marlette, Adjutant General of the SDNG, says those efforts have been expansive.

“We stood up a team to help with the emergency operations center in Pierre, we stood up call centers as those were needed across the state, we trained for ambulance missions, air MEDEVAC missions, medical readiness teams, and alternate care facilities.”

Those efforts continued from the beginning of the pandemic to the end, with SDNG members more recently having helped administered COVID-19 vaccines at sites across the state.

All of these assignments happened while the Guard continued to attend to non-COVID related duties. In January, SDNG members deployed to Washington D.C. to provide security for the presidential inauguration, while the 196th MEB from Sioux Falls has been deployed to Africa since September 2020.

The SDNG has roughly 4300 soldiers, making it one of the smaller presences in the country. However, that never slowed down the mission.

“As COVID started to go through the state, we identified our number of people who had gotten shut down (or lost jobs) from COVID, that number rose to just over 100,” explained Marlette. “We went there first and offered those people the ability to go on orders. When the state identified a need a for call center workers for example, we went to them first and offered them jobs. When a mission was out there, we never had a shortage of volunteers.”

It is not just the men and women of the Guard who did their part to combat the coronavirus, but the families, friends, and employers that they left behind as well.

Sergeant First Class Clint Sandness left his family and small business to go onto active duty for extended periods of time over the duration of the pandemic.

“It kind of showed us that we are capable of doing all this stuff even during a pandemic,” said Sandness. “Just because there is a pandemic doesn’t mean we aren’t ready to deploy, we have to stay ready to deploy. That was the best part, to see all of that come together.”

“Guard soldiers play key roles in their communities,” said Marlette. “They are EMTs, doctors, mayors, nurses, teachers, they all play important roles. When they come out of those communities to do their duty, people pick that up. The support we got out of those communities is truly phenomenal.”