A rented minivan pulls up to rural home in Montezuma County, and two Colorado National Guardsmen in camouflaged fatigues, sunglasses and combat boots step out wearing masks.
But it is not a traditional battle situation. There is no Humvee or weapons. Rather, Capt. Ben Yokley and Technical Sgt. Josh Johnson carry boxes of food and supplies to the elderly couple at the door.
“At first, they look cautious, then the smiles and waves come,” said Johnson. “We are overwhelmed by the support for us and the military in this community.”
The two were deployed in April to assist the county as part of the domestic battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 450 have been deployed throughout the state.
After serving in the Air Force, the two went to college and joined the Colorado National Guard.
Their training in military precision and efficiency, combined with degrees in business and organizational psychology, came in handy.
“We joined your Emergency Operations Center to help out wherever we could,” Yokley said.
Armed with computers, their first task was to create a database system to track all COVID response efforts by the county.
“Good documentation is critical for reimbursement from federal aid programs,” Johnson said. “We assisted in streamlining the process.”
Any time devoted to crisis response by government and private entities were logged in. Different agencies were linked into the database, including local fire agencies, county sheriff, jail, hospital and local towns.
Then it was time to hit the road. The two have been delivering hundreds of meals to at-risk senior citizens and others. Serving vulnerable populations at home helps limit their time in stores where they could be exposed to the virus.
Delivering essentials to local veterans also has been part of their mission.
At the county annex parking lot, the men helped to unload and distribute 12,000 pounds of food to residents. Supporting EOC planning and strategic efforts also are part of the job.
“It’s all gone smoothly, the expressions of thanks, we have seen say it all. We love being in this area,” Yokley said.
The National Guard is positioned to assist with unforeseen natural disasters, even a worldwide pandemic that has no end in sight.
“The Guard is great because we are home supporting our country, and the public can see that,” Yokley said. “When deployed overseas, you are still protecting your country, but it is not as visible to Americans back home.”
The Guard is more accustomed to assisting with wildfires, floods or extreme weather events like hurricanes. Now, they have a new crisis to add to the list.
“We didn’t expect to respond to a pandemic. But we’ve been trained to navigate any crisis situation with calmness and effective logistics,” Johnson said. “To defeat this, it’s important to stay positive, help your neighbor and adjust to changes with a good attitude.”
The highest-ranking Colorado National Guard member, Maj. Gen. Michael Loh, visited Montezuma County April 23 to receive an update from Johnson and Yokley. He arrived in a UH-60 Blackhawk at the Cortez Municipal Airport and met with county officials, emergency responders and the public.