Amid concerns over the spreading coronavirus disease, the Centers for Disease Control Prevention has recommended limiting all travel — so far the National Guard Bureau is not heeding this recommendation.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Il., wrote a letter to Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, to express concern over how the services are continuing to carry out regular travel requirements for members of the National Guard and Reserves. According to a spokesperson from the National Guard Bureau, individual states are determining drill schedules and precautionary measures but no force-wide policies are being implemented from the National Guard Bureau level.
Duckworth served in the Reserves for 23 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel in 2014. She was deployed to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard in 2004 when her helicopter was hit by an RPG resulting in the loss of her legs and partial use of her right arm.
"I am particularly concerned with our Reserve and Guard troops’ ability to keep themselves and their communities safe,” Duckworth wrote. “Reservists and Guardsmen travel from all over the country to their units for their monthly drills. This has real potential to spread the virus if someone feels they must report for duty but they are in a heavily hit city or should be under restricted travel."
Duckworth's letter asks that National Guard and Reserve leadership "make public and communicate to all the affected individuals what the current policy is for Reserve and Guard troops' travel for drill weekends." If no such policy exists, Duckworth suggested one be developed "rapidly."
Beyond health concerns, drill pay is crucial to the financial stability of many members of the National Guard and Reserves — budget adjustments will be necessary for many of these service members should drill schedules be altered.
The New York National Guard was activated earlier this week by New York governor Andrew Cuomo to help fight the largest cluster of coronavirus cases in New Rochelle, New York. The Guardsmen are helping to clean surfaces and deliver food within a one-mile containment area around the community's synagogue where many of the cases originated.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus, specifically COVID-19, a pandemic.