COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio National Guard has been there to lend a helping hand to those in need since March 18 — when Governor Mike DeWine activated 400 guardsmen for Operation Steady Resolve. 

  • 600 members of the Ohio National Guard have been assisting in various ways across the state since March 18
  • The Guard has been helping with food distribution, PPE donation collection and emergency surge hospital management
  • Now they are heading to Ohio’s prison systems to help maintain staffing levels

Major General John Harris said his men and women have been working tirelessly day in, day out and they’re proud to do so. 

“For those folks to be there, to be a part of that, knowing that they’re helping people in need, it’s as valuable as anything we do in the military,” said Harris.

The Guard has been helping primarily at food banks, assisting with distribution of meals to families in need, as well as accepting donations of PPE at the Sullivant Avenue Armory in Columbus, and assisting in the establishment of emergency bed spaces in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. 

“One of the great things about the Guard, you know, we bring, we’re a large national guard, 16,500 people,” he said. “Lots of capacity but also lots of capability, lots of skills.” 

And now the Ohio National Guard is taking on a new duty, assisting in Ohio’s state and federal prisons affected by COVID-19.

"Our folks will function side-by-side with the corrections officers,” Harris said. “We’re augmenting their workforce. We’re not there to replace them. We don’t have the skills to run a prison, but we can certainly, as their workforce attrits, due to folks that we think are going to test positive. We work side by side with them to augment that force to make sure they maintain minimum staffing level.”

At least 1,900 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Marion Correctional Institution, which is one of the prisons the Guard is assisting. Harris said making sure his men and women stay safe is a top priority. 

“We ensure that not only do they have the proper PPE, but we put them through classes on how to put on the PPE, how to take it off, the right way to take your mask on and off, the right way to take your gloves on and off, the right times to wear them. All those things are very important,” he said. 

Harris said the Guard plans to continue to assist wherever they are needed as long as the coronavirus pandemic persists. 

“The plan is continue the missions that we’re doing. We’ll be ready to augment the prisons until the prisons don’t need us anymore. We’ll be providing the medical care inside those prisons as long as the prisons need us. We’ll be in the food banks as long as the food banks need us.” 

Harris said the Guard will be preparing for the worst-case scenario in order to be prepared for the unknown, but he's optimistic for the state as we move forward, thanking Ohioans for their efforts to flatten the curve.

“Thank you and continue the effort — we’re not out of this,” he said. “We will take a disciplined approach to coming out of this. But when we do, when we do, at some point we will see life back to normal and we’re gonna be able to celebrate. One person lost to the disease is too much and I don’t want to use the term celebrate too lightly. But we’ve been incredibly successful as a state at staving off the worst of this thing. And the worst of this thing should be behind us and if we play our cards right, it will be.”