COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For some people with no background in the military, a 4-star general may mean very little. He could be viewed as just another high ranking military leader.
The reality is the ranking is a big deal. There are 42 active-duty 4-star officers in the United States. Much like those they lead, the generals are men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving the United States.
The current Chief of the National Guard Bureau is General Joseph Lengyel. He oversees all National Guards for the 54 states and territories and the District of Columbia.
He was in Columbus on Wednesday to see the Ohio National Guard’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the places he visited was the Mid-Ohio Food Collective. That is where nearly 100 men and women have been deployed.
“The selfless service of the National Guard is really our best product and I’m happy to see it,” said General Lengyel. “I’m seeing it here in Ohio in spades.”
The guardsmen and reserves have been helping keep Ohio families fed all while improving the food collective’s output.
“We have a few volunteers that are key volunteers that are here and constantly tell me, ‘We can’t keep up with all these young men and women,'” said Matt Habash, president and CEO of the Mid-Ohio Food Collective. “They work so hard, so fast,”
All told, the increase in output is to meet an increase in demand. Normally, the food collective helps feed 150 to 250 families per day from its pantry with its normal crew of volunteers. Habash says they are mostly senior citizens. The guard has helped increase the number of households receiving food between 500 and 700 per day by employing efficiencies, teamwork, planning, and workforce.
“Everything we have asked them to do they have stepped up to help,” said Habash. “They’ve got such an efficient system out there they like to say, ‘We’re now tracking less than 30 seconds a car.'”
The guard is also in the food collective’s kitchen making hot meals, and in the packing center filling boxes to ship.
“We could not have done the almost 40 percent increase in the amount of food that we’ve moved without their help,” said Habash. “They have packed boxes, they’ve delivered boxes to seniors, they’ve taken meals to the homeless shelters that have been expanded downtown.”
General Lengyel says the Ohio National Guard is performing exactly how the organization was designed and for what it is uniquely positioned to do.
“It’s what makes people join the National Guard, frankly,” he said. “To come and serve in your home, in your communities, when crisis is upon us.”
The real test may come later this year. Every state has activated its National Guard units, which means natural disaster response is going to be impacted as hurricane season approaches.
Usually, National Guard units can come and help share the load when a hurricane devastates a part of the country. But this year that may not be possible. Units may be busy with the COVID-19 response or there may be concerns over bringing the virus into a community or home with visiting guardsmen.
In this situation, General Lengyel says it is possible that active duty military may be asked to step in to support areas hit by a natural disaster. In the meantime, he says guard units will continue to serve their communities.
“This response is going to go on for a while,” General Lengyel said. “The National Guard will be there for as long as it takes.”