Since COVID-19 took hold in the United States in March 2020, the term “unprecedented” has been used countless times to describe never-before-seen events and challenges. To add to the applications of the term, we apply a number: 595. This is the number of continuous days your Rhode Island National Guard was activated to support the State’s pandemic response.
The COVID-19 response has been the largest, most sustained, and complex domestic activation in the 383-year history of the Rhode Island National Guard. The response involved the activation and dedicated service of over 1,000 individual service members from our Army and Air National Guard.
I could not be more proud of our service members who worked tirelessly in every area of Rhode Island’s response which included the teamwork and dedicated support of the entire state. We thank the incredibly skilled and dedicated healthcare professionals who, from day one, have been on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Their selfless service has been nothing short of heroic. It’s been an honor serving our communities and working in support of the Rhode Island Department of Health, Emergency Management Agency, Department of Education, and all of our state agency partners.
The Guard’s 595 continuous days of activation required the support of another group we want to thank: our employers. The pandemic response was 595 days our activated service members had to step away from their places of employment. Each one of those missed days required our employers to cover shifts and colleagues to take on added workloads in their absence. That is no small feat particularly given the direct impact the pandemic had on the business and education sectors. We estimate our employers cumulatively lost approximately 1.72 million work hours or almost 215,000 work days during the activation. That is a tremendous amount of support from the employers and industries across Rhode Island.
Most of our service members serve part-time in the Rhode Island National Guard and are employed primarily throughout Rhode Island and the other New England states. They are educators and doctors, EMTs and mechanics. They are financial analysts, retail managers, customer service representatives, and electrical engineers. Members of the Guard come from every community; their careers and professions are as diverse as Rhode Island itself.
Only through the sacrifice of our employers has the Rhode Island National Guard been able to assist the state response to COVID-19. This is an unprecedented demonstration of support to your employees and our service members during a domestic activation. On behalf of the Rhode Island National Guard, thank you. We could not have done it without you.
The writer is the adjutant general of the Rhode Island National Guard.