NEWS | April 7, 2020

How it works: Pennsylvania National Guard support during COVID-19 pandemic

By Army Lt. Col. Angela King-Sweigart

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa.—Approximately 850 Pennsylvania Guard members are supporting operations throughout the Commonwealth, providing support to a variety of operations including, supporting a community testing site in Montgomery County , supporting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, and setting up a FEMA Medical Station in Glen Mills.

The process to "call-up the Guard" in Pennsylvania remains the same as during other domestic support operations.

“As with a snow storm or flood in Pennsylvania, our orders to support missions come from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, with the approval of the Adjutant General,” said Col. Frank Montgomery, director of domestic operations for the Pennsylvania National Guard.

The process explained by Maj. Ed Wallace, an emergency preparedness liaison officer who works out of PEMA’s headquarters, is straight forward.

“If a county or a Pennsylvania state agency needs assistance, like help setting up a testing site for instance, the county emergency operations center places a request with PEMA," Wallace said. "PEMA processes the request and determines what entity is best suited for the mission. If PEMA determines the best entity is the Pennsylvania National Guard, they call us and we begin working on how to meet the mission. At times working in coordination with PEMA, FEMA may be involved as well.”

After PEMA tasks the Pennsylvania National Guard, the joint operations center at Fort Indiantown Gap looks at the units within the Pennsylvania National Guard to determine what unit or task force is best suited to meet the mission.

“We have a large National Guard here in Pennsylvania [approximately 19,000 National Guard members],” explained Lt. Col. Pete Mielo, the operations officer for domestic operations. “So, we can look statewide and see what unit has the functionality needed, or what unit is geographically closest. Like in the case of supporting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, it made sense to have Task Force West, who is geographically located near Pittsburgh to handle the mission. They have done an outstanding job.”

During domestic operations, the Pennsylvania National Guard is separated into geographic task forces and functional task forces. The geographic task forces are known as Pennsylvania Task Force (PTF) North, PTF South and PTF West and functional task forces are Aviation and Support.

The National Guard can not be activated by calling 9-1-1 or calling the local Guard armory directly, Wallace said.

“You cannot activate the Pennsylvania National Guard by calling us directly," he said. "Requests must come through an approving authority like PEMA.”

The Pennsylvania National Guard operates similar to the other 53 National Guards located each state and the territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. News about the overall National Guard response may be found on the National Guard website: https://www.nationalguard.mil/coronavirus/

The Pennsylvania Guard is one of the largest and most deployed National Guards in the nation and headquartered at Fort Indiantown Gap. In addition to its federal mission, the Pennsylvania National Guard responds to domestic emergencies, working with the PEMA, FEMA, U.S. Northern Command and dozens of federal, state and local agencies. The Guard maintains a joint operations center at Fort Indiantown Gap staffed by Pennsylvania Guard members 24/7 that support its domestic mission.