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News | April 28, 2021

First Class Distributors

By Pfc. Devin Bard, 114th Public Affairs Detachment

After more than a year of supporting the state’s national stockpile during the worst pandemic in modern history, the New Hampshire National Guard’s distribution mission is coming to an end.

“We're getting to the point where the PPE suppliers are opening back up,” said Capt. Jeremy Saunders this week. The officer in charge of Task Force Distro explained that medical facilities across the state are now able to purchase PPE through normal supply channels.

A small team will remain on orders to keep vaccination sites supplied as well as be available to distribute COVID-19 test kits to summer camps as needed.

From the onset of the virus in March of 2020, facilities and businesses across the state struggled to secure critical supplies, especially personal protective equipment.

“There was a PPE shortage worldwide,” said Sgt. Maj. Rachael Fleharty-Strevig of 3rd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery Brigade and Joint Task Force Granite sergeant major. “Everybody wanted it but nobody could get it. The state realized that the mission was bigger than what they could handle.”

Working in partnership with state agencies, the NHNG was activated to help secure and distribute PPE, moving millions of gowns, face shields, and gloves. Early on, the soldiers and airmen of TF Distro also assisted the NH Food Bank working salvage, preparing a garden, cooking meals, and organizing food drives.

“It was an interesting mission working with NH Food Bank,'' Saunders said. “When we first started some days were like 10 to 12 hours long and we helped conduct multiple food pantries.”

From prepping boxed meals for families at the facility to giving them out to families at mobile pantries, the guardsmen were responsible for delivering 517,176 meals.

“We pretty much spent the summer with six different missions working with the food bank,” Fleharty-Strevig said. “It was a lot and we were constantly moving and busy six days a week."

As fall approached, the team focused on PPE distribution, delivering to medical facilities, fire departments, schools, businesses and other organizations across the state.

“One of the most interesting things we did were the DEKA flights,” Saunders said. Dean Kamen of DEKA Research secured charter flights with Federal Express to deliver PPE from China.

“They would come into the facility in Manchester where we would help download and transport it," Saunders said.

Initially, because of the high demand, shipments required additional security, Saunders said. “We would get police escorts for our bigger shipments, especially those first few.”
Operating for more than a year, TF Distro has been the support structure for the NHNG COVID-19 relief mission, delivering to testing and vaccination sites, as well as civilian counterparts.

“We've done over 30,000 deliveries and orders throughout the state,” said Staff Sgt. Collin Gagnon, an aircraft structural maintainer with the 157th Maintenance Squadron assigned as the orders and tracking noncommissioned officer for the task force. “This consists of over 17,000 tons of PPE and supplies for the vaccine sites.”

In their final days at the warehouse, members of the team, which is shrinking from 54 guardsmen to 12, reflected on the importance of their mission.

“We provided the tools needed to combat COVID-19,” said Cpl. Andre St. Laurent, an ammunition specialist with 744th Forward Sustainment Company. “From an Army standpoint, we normally fight an enemy we can see. This time we helped our community fight an enemy nobody could see.”

For many, the task force became like a second family.

“We’ve developed this close-knit group of soldiers and airmen here,” Saunders said. “It’s bittersweet because it’s coming to an end and all of us going our separate ways. The sweet part is that our work has paid off and we've accomplished our mission.”