Duties and functions

COVID response prompts Idaho National Guard to establish first dual-status commander

Idaho Military Division Public Affairs / Crystal Farris

In September, after a second wave of COVID-19 cases spread across Idaho, Governor Brad Little authorized the mobilization of up to 150 Idaho National Guard soldiers and airmen. He also called for additional federal support as a last-ditch effort to avoid activating statewide crisis care standards, a first in Idaho’s history.

On September 7, on the recommendation of Governor Little and Idaho Adjutant General Major General Michael Garshak, US Northern Command appointed the brigadier. Gen. Russ Johnson, Director of the Idaho National Guard Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the state’s first-ever dual-status commander. That same day, Idaho guards and active-duty federal military personnel began reporting to hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities across the state to support the overwhelmed medical staff.

“Joint Task Force – Idaho is helping free up civilian medical personnel, allowing it to focus on providing medical care during the current surge in COVID-19 cases,” Johnson said. “Collectively, our Idaho Title 32 National Guardsmen and Title 10 active duty personnel are employed to directly support our healthcare industry, making a difference in the lives of the citizens of Idaho every day. “

Currently, Idaho National Guardsmen serve in nearly two dozen healthcare facilities across the state and perform non-clinical duties, including medical screenings, test collection, logistical assistance, and others. administrative tasks.

Idaho National Guard Col. Britt Vanshur, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Idaho National Guard provides support in administrative functions rather than playing a clinical role, as the majority of its health professionals are part-time guards already working full-time in hospitals, clinics and health establishments.

“It would be unwise to remove our Idaho Guard medical personnel from their civilian capabilities in these health facilities simply to activate them and send them back in uniform to perform these same tasks,” Vanshur said. “They are already having a positive impact on health districts in a civilian capacity.

This activation marks the second time since the start of the pandemic that Idaho National Guards have been deployed in response to COVID-19. In March 2020, the Idaho National Guard began mobilizing more than 400 citizen-soldiers and airmen as part of the organization’s first COVID-19 relief effort, named Task Force Agile Response.

During this second wave, as a record number of COVID-19 cases engulfed northern Idaho, Kootenai Health requested help through the then Idaho Emergency Management Office. that the hospital’s capacity was reaching its limits, forcing it to implement emergency care standards.

In response to this request, the Department of Defense, through US Northern Command, assigned a US Army medical response team. The 23-person MRT augments Kootenai Health by supplying doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists from various commands and locations including Fort Carson, Colorado and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

This is the first time in Idaho’s history that Titles 32 and 10 personnel have been mobilized under a single task force, creating the demand for a dual-status commander to effectively coordinate response efforts between the two forces.

“Dual Status Command effectively streamlines the efforts of the National Guard and the active component under a single commander in support of state and federal civilian authorities,” Johnson said. “This ensures that we are all pulling in the same direction to meet the needs – current and emerging – of the governor and his leadership in emergency management. “

Idaho is one of many states to have recently activated a dual status commander for the COVID-19 response. Other states include Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee.

Members of the Joint Task Force – Idaho have collectively worked thousands of hours since September, while providing COVID-19 patient care and much-needed relief to overworked healthcare facility staff.

“The Idaho Joint Task Force has been very successful on many fronts,” Johnson said. “Our guards and active duty counterparts have put their personal lives on hold to come together and answer the call of their fellow citizens during this historic pandemic.”