National Guard on front lines in state’s COVID-19 battle

Nearly 1,000 men and women in Washington state were suddenly called-up in recent weeks to battle COVID 19.

Nearly 1,000 men and women in Washington state were suddenly called-up in recent weeks to battle COVID 19.

All of them are part-time Army and Air Force National Guard members, now working full-time on the pandemic’s front lines.

When the nation’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in a man being treated at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett back in January, Captain Bryan Grenon of the Seattle Police Department knew he’d be switching gears.

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“The first confirmed case, I had a feeling that I would be called-up to help lead this response,” Grenon told KIRO 7 from Camp Murray near Lakewood.

Grenon has been with the SPD since the early 1990s and is currently captain of the East Precinct. But Grenon is also a Brigadier General in the Washington Army National Guard; commanding Officer to all 891 guard members who have been called-up in recent weeks to help prevent COVID 19 from spreading throughout Washington.

“It’s all part of helping the Governor, helping the Health Department open up the economy so that we can get everybody back to work and get to that Stage Four,” Grenon said.

Grenon was in charge of the field hospital build-up at the Century Link Exhibition Center. Fortunately, local hospitals have been able to handle COVID 19 response, so the field hospital moved on.

Meanwhile, the nearly 900 local National Guard members have been working in other arenas; helping the Department Of Health with COVID 19 testing, assembling test kits, contact tracing, and working at 57 food banks across the state.

Specialist Cody Alidon also left his job with the Seattle Police Department for a month of full-time service with the National Guard.

“I’ve been surprising all my family and friends when I tell them what I’ve been up to,” the SPD South Precinct Patrol Officer told KIRO 7 while sorting food. “Most people assume we’re going to be doing Martial Law or something crazy like that. More often, 99% of the time, it’s doing things like working in food banks, relief aid and missions.”

“We’ve got so many people that are out of work and need food” Grenon said, revealing that there are thousands of hungry people throughout Washington State. “I was out in Walla Walla last week, fairly small community, and I was there on a Saturday when they do a good chunk of their food deliveries. Their drive-through delivery had a line-up of 900 cars.”

Much of the food being distributed is sorted by Guard members at a Food Lifeline warehouse in SODO where a full pallet is processed every 4-and-a-half minutes. More than 3 million pounds of food has been sorted, re-packaged and sent to hungry people all across Washington State since 250 Guard members took-over daily operations on East Marginal Way South.

“Most food bank volunteers are elderly, people at risk for COVID 19, so to have them out here working in these situations would probably be irresponsible,” Alidon said to explain why National Guard member are now doing much of the work.

“So the Guard steps up and handles that mission,” Grenon added.

The 891 guard members called-up to help with COVID relief spend their typical day jobs as bankers, accountants, teachers and first responders, like Grenon and Alidon.

However, Grenon explained that call-up orders take members’ full-time jobs into consideration.

“One thing that we really try to do during this specific pandemic is that we know that the local communities, local first responders, were going to be hit hard initially so we really tried to limit the folks that were law enforcement or firefighters getting called up,” he explained. “We knew that they had that greater need within those agencies.”

For Alidon, the call-up timing was perfect. He already had time-off approved by the SPD to train with the National Guard. Now that training has turned to a mission on the front lines of the COVID 19 battle. “Packing up boxes, getting them out to communities that need them and handing them out,” Alidon said. “Basically, just doing the best that we can.”