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By Staff Sgt. Zane Craig
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – 2020 was a year like no other in recent history for the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Throughout the year, Soldiers and Airmen of the Pennsylvania National Guard responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest and natural disasters in our homeland and deployed around the world, in addition to conducting their usual readiness training.
"This year has been nothing short of historic,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Schindler, Pennsylvania’s acting adjutant general. “Our Pa. National Guard responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, modified our training and operations in order to safely support civil unrest missions, mobilized the 28th Aviation Brigade, deployed two Air Wings overseas and back, sustained un-interrupted combat operations from Horsham and successfully conducted a Division War Fighter Exercise.”
In 2020, nearly 1,800 Pa. Guard members deployed in support of ongoing contingency and force protection operations in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar, Poland, Germany and Kosovo.
The PNG also supported domestic operations, deploying approximately 5,900 personnel in Pennsylvania and nationally to assist local authorities with COVID-19 pandemic response, civil unrest and natural disasters. During the 2020 primary and general elections, the PNG supported local and state agencies with protection and monitoring of cyber networks.
Fort Indiantown Gap continued to play a major role supporting National Guard activities as the PNG’s headquarters. FTIG played host to more than 118,000 active duty, Reserve and National Guard service members in 2020, remaining among the busiest National Guard training centers in the nation.
“With the support of our employers, the Soldiers and Airmen of the Pennsylvania National Guard stepped up and got the job done,” said Schindler. “I am extremely proud of our men, women and their families for their sacrifice and service to our commonwealth and country.”
Pennsylvania National Guard members have been involved in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic continually since mid-March. To date, approximately 1,500 PNG members were on duty for a total of over 58,000 man-days as they took part in a variety of COVID-related missions.
Over 50 Pennsylvania National Guardsmen were placed on state active duty in March to provide subject matter expert planners to assist the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and to provide transportation for 38 Pennsylvania residents who had been quarantined following a COVID-19 outbreak on a cruise ship. The residents, who were determined to be asymptomatic, were flown to Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown, Pa., and individually driven by Guardsmen to their homes throughout the commonwealth.
As the number COVID-19 cases began to rise, health officials feared hospitals would be overrun with patients and began establishing “field hospitals” at several locations across the commonwealth to help deal with the influx. Pennsylvania National Guard members helped transport equipment and establish field hospitals at the Glen Mills School in Delaware County, at Temple University in north Philadelphia, and at East Stroudsburg University's Koehler Fieldhouse.
Pennsylvania National Guard members helped establish and operate COVID-19 testing sites at several locations. Among them were Montgomery County and at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
The Pennsylvania National Guard assembled a task force to conduct point prevalence sampling at nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the commonwealth. The sampling was conducted at the direction of the Pennsylvania Department of Health to provide logistics, planning and personnel to test all residents and staff at identified facilities for COVID-19.
Pennsylvania National Guard members have been assisting at long-term care facilities across the commonwealth since. The staffing support teams are usually a combination of nurses, medics and general purpose personnel. The medical personnel can help with non-acute care of patients, such as checking vitals, while the general-purpose personnel can assist with daily tasks such as delivering meals and cleaning.
Among the staffing support missions, the Pennsylvania National Guard has assisted at the Broomall Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Broomall, Pa., and the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver, Pa.
As of mid-December, the PNG has conducted about 40 staffing support missions and has provided some form of assistance to nearly 90 long-term care facilities.
Nearly 60 Pennsylvania National Guard members were activated in April to take part in a mortuary-affairs support mission. The mission entailed assisting local medical examiners from five Pennsylvania counties – Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware, Bucks, and Montgomery – in the transportation of remains to their central collection locations.
Seventeen Pennsylvania National Guard members were activated by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency in April to support the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The soldiers assisted with packing emergency food boxes, distributions and general operations.
Pennsylvania National Guard transportation units assisted the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services beginning to deliver meals to various distribution centers across the state. These meals, supplied by PEMA were designed to resupply county emergency management agencies, senior citizen centers, food banks and other organizations.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania National Guard and the Pennsylvania Wing of Civil Air Patrol have worked concurrently under the direction of PEMA to provide Pennsylvanians with meals.
In addition to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, the Pennsylvania National Guard continued to respond to natural disasters, civil unrest and cyber threats throughout 2020.
“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," said Maj. Ed Wallace, an emergency preparedness liaison officer. "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.
Thousands of Guardsmen were placed on state active duty to provide support to local law enforcement in keeping order during two separate civil unrest periods in 2020.
The Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team rescued two motorists stranded in rapidly rising water during flooding caused by Tropical Storm Isaias Aug. 4 in Berks County. The PA-HART was comprised of four Pennsylvania National Guard members operating the aircraft and hoist and two credentialed civilian rescue technicians.
Approximately 10 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard provided routine cybersecurity support to state and local partners to help ensure the integrity of the Nov. 3 general election. This was the fifth election in recent years for which the cyber team provided assistance. The team worked remotely this year to maintain physical distance as part of ongoing COVID-19 mitigation while providing the same effective service.
In 2020, the Pennsylvania National Guard continued to play a key role in supporting the overall U.S. military mission overseas.
Despite challenges presented by COVID-19, the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade mobilized, completed pre-deployment training and deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations. Operating as Task Force Anvil, the 28th ECAB formally took control of the aviation mission in the CENTCOM region during a transfer-of-authority ceremony Oct. 8 in Kuwait. The ceremony included the uncasing of the 28th ECAB’s colors.
“Although the pandemic prevented the 28th ECAB from experiencing the longstanding Army tradition of casing of the colors, we are taking part in the tradition of uncasing our colors,” said Col. Howard Lloyd, 28th ECAB commander. “Uncasing the colors signifies that it is time for the 28th ECAB to assume responsibility from the 34th ECAB of providing aviation capabilities to our regional partners and to U.S. Central Command.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced restrictions on travel and public gatherings, resulting in the postponement or cancellation of some training, the Pennsylvania National Guard adapted to the challenges and conducted important and necessary training successfully while mitigating against the spread of infection.
About 20 Air and Army National Guard members who were activated for COVID-19 support missions received medical training, which was essentially the Army’s Combat Lifesaver Course with a few added tasks that could be applicable to COVID-19 support, April 20 to 24 at Fort Indiantown Gap’s Medical Battalion Training Site.
Other training events throughout the year prepared Guard members to assist with the ongoing COVID-19 response, such as the ventilator training at the Medical Simulation Training Center May 6.
The Pennsylvania National Guard maintains a high level of professionalism and skills development through workshops and seminars such as the annual National Guard Domestic Operations Workshop hosted by the National Guard Bureau and the officer professional development event focused on the legal aspects of military domestic operations and professional responsibility hosted by the Pennsylvania National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap on Feb. 8.
Among the most important training events for any Guard unit is pre-mobilization training. The 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade adjusted training due to the COVID-19 and received refreshers in basic soldier skills. Soldiers completed humvee rollover training, rifle marksmanship with the M4 carbine, medical training, land navigation training, grenade training, convoy operations and IED avoidance and detection training before deploying in support of Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve in the Spring.
The 28th Infantry Division prepared for and participated as the primary training audience in Warfighter Exercise 21-2 in early November at Fort Indiantown Gap. During the two-week exercise, commanders and staff sections rehearsed integrating their individual tasks into the collective effort of defeating an enemy force.
In the weeks before the 2020 general election, 16 Pennsylvania Guardsmen joined more than 800 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from more than 40 states Sept. 12 to 27 for Cyber Shield 20, an exercise designed to sharpen their skills as network defenders.
The Pennsylvania National Guard maintains strong partnerships with the nation of Lithuania through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP), state and local governments within Pennsylvania, various federal agencies and other military components, and civil society organizations. These partnerships enable the PNG to be always ready to serve the people of Pennsylvania and the United States whenever it is called upon.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, then Pennsylvania’s adjutant general, spoke with Lithuania’s Chief of Defense, Lt. Gen. Valdemaras Rupšys, April 27 on a video conference to mark the 27th anniversary of the State Partnership Program between Pennsylvania and Lithuania.
The Pennsylvania National Guard hosted a virtual Wi-Fighter Challenge April 24 as part of DeSales University's Third Annual Cyber Security and Digital Forensics Conference. Previous Wi-Fighter events have been held at venues for students to compete in-person, and the challenge was originally scheduled to take place at DeSales, but it had to be quickly reorganized because of social distancing measures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the short notice, the virtual challenge drew 71 participants, doubling the number that can effectively participate in-person.
Members of the 112th Cyberspace Operations Squadron at Horsham Air Guard Station participated in "Amber Mist," a week-long virtual cyber defense exercise to improve skills for defending vital IT infrastructure. The annual joint training exercise is usually held in Lithuania but, due to COVID-19, was conducted remotely for the first time.
Brig. Gen. Modestas Petrauskas, the new defense attaché at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, D.C., visited the Pennsylvania National Guard Sept. 28. It was Petrauskas’ first visit to Pennsylvania, as COVID-19 restrictions prevented additional travel since he took his post earlier this year. Lt. Col. Gražvydas Liubinas, deputy defense attaché, accompanied him on the trip.
More than a dozen Lithuanian Land Forces officers and noncommissioned officers integrated with the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Infantry Division during Warfighter Exercise 21.2, held at Fort Indiantown Gap during early November. The goal of Army warfighter exercises is to simulate stressful scenarios so that unit staffs may identify areas of improvement. The two-week, computer-simulated command and control exercise was based on a fictitious scenario in which a U.S. Baltic ally was invaded by a hostile neighboring nation, causing a 28th Infantry Division-led task force to respond as part of a larger coalition force.
“For us, Lithuanians, this exercise allowed us to expand the scope of our knowledge by planning and integrating such combat support and combat service support units which the Lithuanian Armed Forces do not have or just started to develop,” said Lt. Col. Arunas Vaskevicius, civil-military relations chief of plans.
Achievements and Milestones
The Pennsylvania National Guard continued to achieve excellence in 2020 while adapting to the new reality of COVID-19. Pa. Guard Soldiers and Airmen served their communities in many ways and earned recognition for their service.
The Pennsylvania National Guard awarded its Maj. Octavius V. Catto Medal to Maj. Louis Fabrizi of the Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site and Staff Sgt. Bryan Brandmeir of the 213th Regional Support Group Feb. 22 at the Union League of Philadelphia. The Catto Medal recognizes members of the Pennsylvania National Guard who distinguish themselves as leaders through community support and public service.
Chaplain 1st Lt. Justin Thomas, a chaplain for the 628th Aviation Support Battalion, 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, based at Fort Indiantown Gap, is a member of both the Pennsylvania National Guard Marathon Team and the All-Guard Marathon Team.
Master Sgt. John Paul Karpovich, who works full time as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the G1 operations section at the PNG’s Joint Force Headquarters at Fort Indiantown Gap, received the SHARP Spirit Award at the conclusion of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator/Victim Advocate Career Course March 6 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Two Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers, Pfc. Alyssa Cinquemani, a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic, and Cpl. Christopher Eppler, a wheeled-vehicle mechanic, were recognized for their actions when they stopped to render first aide to a motorcycle crash victim May 1 on Interstate 78 near Fort Indiantown Gap.
Several Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers integrated with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency’s Incident Management Team in early March to assist in planning the agency’s COVID-19 response. PEMA realized early that this response would be larger and more complex than prior responses, so one of the first augmentations they asked for were planners from the Pennsylvania National Guard.
1st Lt. Craig Robbins, a UH-60 Black Hawk medevac pilot with Charlie Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade who has served on 225 military funerals, became the first commissioned officer to ever receive the Pennsylvania Military Funeral Honors Ribbon.
The Pennsylvania Air National Guard (PAANG) welcomed its 10th state command chief in early 2020. Chief Master Sgt. Paul G. Frisco Jr., was appointed to the PAANG’s highest enlisted position after 37 years of service, including 35 years at the 111th Attack Wing in Horsham, Pa., where he served as the wing’s command chief from 2014 to 2020. As the state command chief he serves as the principal enlisted adviser to the PAANG commander on all issues related to mission effectiveness, training, health of the force, conduct, force utilization and quality of life for Pennsylvania Airmen.
One hundred five Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers and Airmen competed with rifles and pistols in multiple courses of fire to determine the Commonwealth’s best marksmen during the Governor’s Twenty match Aug. 14 to 15 at Fort Indiantown Gap. Created in 1968, the Governor's Twenty is a state-level National Guard award presented annually to the top 20 shooters in a state.
Approximately 50 Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers and Airmen competed with rifles and pistols in multiple courses of fire during The Adjutant General’s (TAG) Combined Arms Match at Fort Indiantown Gap Aug. 21 to 23. The Guardsmen competed at a variety of individual and team events, including the combat rifle and pistol individual events, the individual “The odds are against you” event, the team Bianchi battle and the team Gen. George Patton combat pistol match.
Sgt. Jason Goodling was among the top shooters at the two competition. Goodling was the top scorer out of 105 competitors at the Governor’s Twenty and was then combined-arms individual overall champion at The Adjutant General’s Combined Arms Match. He was also part of a team that won the overall aggregate team title the Marksmanship Advisory Council’s Region Two Championship Aug. 27 to 30 at Fort Indiantown Gap.
Sgt. Frank Doone, a utilities equipment repairer with the 3622nd Support Maintenance Company at Fort Indiantown Gap, was one of six Soldiers selected from throughout the Army to be on the Army eSports program’s World of Warcraft team.
The Pennsylvania National Guard's senior enlisted adviser to the adjutant general, Command Sgt. Maj. Harry Buchanan III, retired during a ceremony Nov. 13 at Fort Indiantown Gap after 41 years of service in the National Guard and U.S. Army and four years as SEL.