Oklahoma Army and Air National Guardsmen support Department of Health at Strategic National Stockpile

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kasey Phipps
  • 137th Special Operations Wing

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt assigned more than 25 Oklahoma National Guardsmen to assist the Oklahoma State Department of Health at the Strategic National Stockpile Warehouse in Oklahoma City beginning April 13, 2020.

The Guardsmen, in conjunction state agencies to include the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, help fulfill, secure and transport orders of relief and medical supplies to facilities within the 11 identified COVID-19 regional health administration regions throughout Oklahoma as part of the State’s whole-of-government response to the pandemic.

“We are here at a very important [time] for Oklahomans,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, the Adjutant General for Oklahoma. “This stockpile plays a tremendous role in the health of [the] citizens of Oklahoma. So, to be here and help distribute needed personal protective equipment across the state of Oklahoma is very critical. I'm glad that the Guard is here. It has an important role in that.”

After an order for medical supplies is received and printed by the stockpile’s staff, Service members are responsible for “picking” both the quantity and type of equipment in each order. They then put the boxes on pallets, which go to the quality assurance team, where the pallets are checked and then wrapped with plastic to secure them for transport.

“They have six sets of eyes [during picking] that check it, and then it goes to our quality assurance team,” explained Oklahoma Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Betty Ayers, a Bixby, Oklahoma native with Company B, 545th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team — who acts as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the stockpile teams. “They have another six sets of eyes that check it and double-check it there to make sure everything's correct.”

Many of the Guardsmen, who live and work as civilians throughout Oklahoma, are able to see the direct impact their work has on their communities.

“I think it's awesome because we’re shipping out to places like Comanche County Health Department and Lawton, Oklahoma,” said Oklahoma Army National Guard Spc. Payton Fremin, a Lawton, Oklahoma native with Company A, 700th Brigade Support Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “That's my family and that's my friends. It’s awesome that I am able to work up here shipping out things that they need.”

Though the teams at Oklahoma Strategic National Stockpile are assembled with Guardsmen from different units like Ayers and Fremin, their common training, deployments and camaraderie allow them to create effective and cohesive teams who work together for their fellow Oklahomans.
“I’ve been in [the Oklahoma Army National Guard for] 10 years, and this is actually my very first state active duty mission,” said Ayers. “It’s basically just like any other annual training that we do… Even if we don't know each other, we blend really well together because we're all trained the same. So we're all basically like family by the end of the day.”

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s website, the Strategic National Stockpile is administered through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and designed to stockpile large quantities of medicine and medical supplies at sites throughout the nation to be distributed to, and used by, the American public in the case of a catastrophic health emergency. For a state to receive these supplies, they must have a written use plan in place and have run out of supplies needed to assist the community.

“This is a perfect example of what Oklahoma National Guard does when our community needs us,” said Thompson. “We come here for these kinds of missions. For us at the Strategic National Stockpile, there's really not a more important need than that right now. So having members of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard here to help the state at this time is very important. We're glad we're a part of this team.”

For more information on the Strategic National Stockpile, you can visit the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s website at https://www.hhs.gov/ or the Public Health Emergency website at https://www.phe.gov/ .