By Steve Ranson, Nevada News Group
With Nevada’s governor activating the state’s Army and Air National Guard last week, Naval Air Station Fallon will be able to assist if requested.
Gov. Steve Sisolak said Wednesday by activating the Guard, Nevada will be able to pursue federal funding for its missions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“But most importantly, as this global pandemic continues to impact our state, this activation means that Nevada has the best of the best running our statewide response operation – and you and your families deserve nothing less,” Sisolak said. “The Guard trains year-round, both domestically and abroad, for crises in every scenario imaginable. They are committed to protecting the health and safety of our citizens, and they are ready to join the fight.”
Furthermore, the first-term governor said the Guard has the assets to deliver medical equipment and supplies, provide manpower and plan massive logistical operations. The Guard’s first mission announced last week is sorting and transporting personal protective equipment.
Major Gen. Ondra Berry, the adjutant general, said the Nevada National Guard has the experience to perform during a crisis.
“They are also the foremost experts on logistics and managing crises,” he said. “When the Guard gets called in, you know you’re dealing with the best of the best, and our children, parents, and grandparents deserve nothing less.”
The Nevada National Guard has previously been called out either on federal or state active duty. The Army National Guard assisted with flood mitigation and heavy snow removal during the early 2017 when record snowfall fell in the Sierra Nevada, causing massive runoffs in the Truckee and Carson rivers.
The 609thCombat Engineer Co., in Fallon, for example, removed snow and cleared streets in Virginia City in January 2017 and also reported to Lockwood earlier that same month, where flooding affected the town’s water system. At the time, a Nevada National Guard spokesman said the 609th is the only unit in Northern Nevada that has dump trucks and boats.
Brig. Gen. Mike Hanifan dispelled a rumor that the governor’s activation of the Nevada National Guard means he’s invoking martial law.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Hanifan, who grew up in Fallon. “Martial law is defined as law administered by military force. The governor has not handed over law enforcement duties or powers to the Nevada National Guard.”
Sisolak activated the Guard on Wednesday primarily for logistical planning and delivery of medical supplies as health officials prepared for an expected spike in patients with the respiratory illness.
“This is probably the biggest crisis of our time we’ll be facing as national guardsmen and airmen,” Hanifan said.
According to the Nevada Military Department, the exact missions and locations of the deploying Guard personnel is being finalized for future missions, but about 100 to 200 soldiers and airmen may be split between Southern and Northern Nevada. Across the nation, the National Guard provides a force of 450,000 soldiers and airmen capable of contributing to the response effort. The Nevada National Guard includes about 3,100 soldiers and 1,200 airmen.
Although the missions the governor will request from the Nevada National Guard are pending, familiar types of support the National Guard has been providing across the country include working to increase medical capacity, providing security at testing sites, managing food banks, delivering food and critical supplies and disinfecting public spaces.
NAS Fallon spokesman Zip Upham said the governor would access Department of Defense channels if the state needs further assistance. He said the air station’s field has the capability to receive fights carrying supplies such as medical, water and food. He noted the field can receive cargo planes such as the C-130 or C-17.
After the Truckee Canal breech in January 2008, NAS Fallon provided support by having military transport airplanes land and unload needed supplies such as cases of water and MREs (meals ready to eat) for Fernley residents. Later that same year, NAS Fallon participated with the Nevada Guard and other government agencies during a weeklong earthquake drill that tested readiness and evaluated preparedness.
During the flood mitigation of 2017, Upham said Navy personnel assisted with filling and delivering sandbags.
According to Upham, medical personnel assigned to the base’s health clinic must focus on active duty personnel and dependents, but some personnel could be called up to help with the Navy’s hospital shops, the USNS Mercy or her sister ship, the USNS Comfort.
Upham said the base and the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center are still conducting necessary training. The last carrier air wing recently finished its required training, but Upham said he doesn’t expect another air wing for a while.