New Hampshire National Guard 1st Lt. James Lawrence, a military police officer with the 237th Military Company, with his issued patrol car on the perimeter of the N.H. State Prison for Men in Concord, N.H., on Jan. 10, 2021. Lawrence is one of 20 Guard members filling in at the prison due to a shortage of corrections officers caused by COVID-19.
By Staff Sgt. Charles Johnston
Joint Force Headquarters, New Hampshire National Guard
CONCORD, N.H. – A team of New Hampshire Guardsmen activated for pandemic relief operations has become a fixture at the state prison in the state capital.
The mission, which started in mid-December, is due to a critical shortage of corrections officers caused by COVID-19.
Twenty Soldiers and Airmen from the 237th Military Police Company and 157th Security Forces Squadron are serving two primary roles: perimeter security outside the prison and control room operations.
"So far, the mission has been going smoothly with no major issues," said Capt. Patrick Randall, 237th MP commander.
Before reporting for duty, the Guard members received additional corrections-specific training through New Hampshire Police Standards and Training.
One of the team's senior leaders is 1st Lt. James Lawrence of the 237th, on exterior patrol. He circles the grounds in a marked patrol car along stone walls, chain link fences and razor wire with his issued sidearm, baton and handcuffs.
"It can be very slow with moments of intensity," Lawrence said. "If there's a fight in the prison or somebody tries to commit suicide; if we find unauthorized vehicles pulling into the backside of prison grounds for some obscure reason. Who knows why they're there or what they're willing to do? You kind of have to be prepared."
Other Soldiers and Airmen supervise residents, unlock doors remotely and manage electronic security cameras from within a secure enclosure. There is no physical contact with the residents.
"The (corrections) officers treat us well, and the inmates have been respectful to us for helping out," said Airman 1st Class Nolan Guillemette of the 157th SFS.
Guillemette conceded he at first dreaded the assignment. Now he's considering a future in corrections. "I am thoroughly enjoying it," he said.
The mission is to extend into February.
"Active-duty doesn't get to do this," Lawrence said. "They don't get to support the community. This is my community."