Governors in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have activated components of their Army and Air National Guard, the reserve component of the U.S military. As many as 44,500 troops have been activated across the nation to assist efforts to respond to, mitigate and control the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent Military Times count.
Members of the National Guard aid in key efforts including:
- Supporting community-based testing sites.
- Creating enhanced medical capacity.
- Facilitating logistical support and transportation of key supplies.
- Assisting in state emergency operations centers.
- Providing labor for call centers.
- Packaging and distributing food and other supplies,
- Building facilities such as medical field hospitals.
- Cleaning and disinfecting common spaces.
The National Guard serves a dual state and federal role. The guards are state organizations and state laws give governors the authority to activate them to respond to domestic emergencies such as natural disasters, civil disturbances and the like. The forces are organized by units and members possess specific occupational specialties such as combat, medical, security, aviation and engineering, among others. The president can also call up the National Guard to support war efforts and national emergencies. In this case, state governors have first acted to mobilize their guards under state active duty status.
Funding to pay for guard deployments is generally the responsibility of the states, except when federally activated under Title 10 related to active duty military service or in the case of a Title 32 designation. Title 32 of the U.S. Code allows a governor to order guard members to report for operational homeland defense duties with the approval of the president or secretary of defense. As of April 9, 2020, 38 states and Guam and Puerto Rico have received designation from the federal government to operate under Title 32, with 11 additional requests pending.
Under this “federalized” status, guard troops still report to the governor, but the federal government pays the cost, which can run as much as $9 million per month per 1,000 troops mobilized, according to the chief of the National Guard Bureau. Under the President’s March 13 National Emergency Declaration, all states and territories qualify for 75% federal coverage of National Guard costs under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance, which covers emergency protective measures. States who have been approved for a Major Disaster Declaration (which is nearly all), and that have activated the lesser of 500 individuals or 2 percent of National Guard personnel, can request a waiver of the 25% cost share. For approved states, FEMA will cover 100% cost of National Guard orders for up to 31 days. In addition, this status allows guard members to receive health, education and retirement benefits.
Additional funding for National Guard activities was part of HR 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which appropriated $1.4 billion for deployments of the National Guard for the next six months to support state and local response efforts. This level of funding will sustain up to 20,000 members of the National Guard, under the direction of the governors of each state. More specifically, the funding allocates $746 million to the Army National Guard for response efforts both domestically and internationally, $186 million to the Army National Guard Operation and maintenance funding programs, $482 million to the Air National Guard for response efforts both domestically and internationally, and $75 million to the Air National Guard Operation and maintenance funding programs.
Governors serve as the commanders-in-chief of the guards in their states, with the state adjutant generals responsible for commanding these forces, when not on federal active duty. Many of the guards roughly 450,000 members work in civilian jobs while serving part-time alongside full-time service members. The states with at least 15,000 National Guard members include California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Members of the National Guard meet the same standards as active duty service members for military skills and physical fitness.
Twenty-two states and Puerto Rico also maintain a state defense force, which is separate from the state National Guard, though they may be organized in parallel. State guards are paid for by the states and typically do not leave the state’s borders. At this point, it appears only Alaska and New York have activated its state guard.
Given the fast-moving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is fully expected that more guard troops will be activated in the coming days and weeks amid the crisis.