National Guardsmen shift focus from vaccinations, testing to supporting struggling hospitals amid COVID

Posted at 9:56 PM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 12:45:26-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In the Tennessee National Guardsmen history, there's never been a stretch of time that so many of them found themselves deployed within the state -- until now.

Because of the state's landscape with the coronavirus, doctors, nurses, medics and others helped deliver more than a million COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, according to Lt. Col. Dallas Clements, Deputy Director of Military Support for the Tennessee National Guard.

Right now, nearly 600 guardsmen have orders across the state, helping out in almost 20 hospitals. By the end of September, the current number of guardsmen will reduce to 400 because of the shifting demands.

But despite a decrease, they will continue to serve Tennessee hospitals struggling under the weight of COVID-19.

Though COVID-19 meant a more heightened effort, this time frame for the guard started last March after a tornado ripped through the midstate.

"And just as we were starting to back away from the tornadoes, the request for National Guard assistance started to drop, the request for COVID-19 assistance ramped up,” Clements said.

At the start of the pandemic, the Tennessee National Guard was deployed in 88 counties. That effort shifted because of the wide availability of COVID testing and vaccinations.

Now their deployment has decreased to 58 counties.

“As we start to shift away from testing and vaccinations, now most of our requests are to augment the hospitals,” Clements said.

This comes as guardsmen are also responding to local disasters, like flooding that impacted counties west of Nashville in late August.

“[This was] the first time we’ve done a water rescue from a helicopter. That unfortunately had to happen with Waverly,” Clements said.

To date guardsmen have removed 600 dump trucks of debris from the area.

“They want to serve both their nation and their state, and so they welcome these opportunities, as tragic as they may be," Clements said. "They look forward to get the call, put the uniform on and help people out.”