2021: Another historic year for the Wisconsin National Guard

2021: Another historic year for the Wisconsin National Guard

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin will close out 2021 just as it did in 2020, another year battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

One agency that played a major role throughout the pandemic is the Wisconsin National Guard who fulfilled a variety of roles from distributing over 1.2 million vaccines across the state, to helping fill staffing shortages at mental health facilities.

Officials are calling 2021 "one of the most historic years in Wisconsin National Guard history."

It comes after 2020 was labeled the "Year of the Guard" both in Wisconsin and national due to their unprecedent response to the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting state elections and civil unrest.

This year, the guard role took on new missions primarily focused on administering COVID-19 tests and vaccines.

The Wisconsin National Guards mobilization for pandemic needs represents the longest and largest sustained domestic mobilization in Wisconsin Nation Guard history.

Maj. Joe Trovato said there have never been so many troops mobilized for this long in the state.

"We've really stepped into some long term, sustained roles for the state and the COVID mobilization represents the single largest sustained domestic mobilization in all of Wisconsin National Guard history, which dates back to 1837," Trovato said.

Some non-pandemic highlights include, sending guard members to help with security during the Milwaukee Bucks NBA finals, assisting to secure the nation's capital after violence erupted on January 6th, responding to threats made to the state capitol building following the insurrection, and having a presence in Kenosha during the Kyle Rittenhouse trial.

"It's been an unpresented year," said Trovato. "We are being pulled in a lot of directions, we've been taken on a lot of roles, but our troops have handled so well."

In the fall, over two dozen soldiers were deployed to California and Washington to battle wildfires and assist with search and rescue missions.

After the war in Afghanistan came to an end and thousands of Afghan evacuees started to arrive in the U.S., Wisconsin National Guard members helped transport refuges from Volk Field to Fort McCoy.

While 2021 nears an end, officials say they are prepared for what lies ahead in the new year. For now, the guard is on standby whether the state decides to build an alternative care facility to help overwhelmed hospitals.

Last year multiple guard members arrived at the care facility located at the Wisconsin State Fair grounds to offer patient care assistance and other supportive roles.

Gov. Tony Evers said it's an option to open an alternative site, but he first wants more federal resources to staff hospitals.

"We can build another hospital, but that's going to take time and effort and lots of resources," Evers said. "The best alternative is to get help for those hospitals."

Earlier this month, Evers announced a 20-member team from the U.S. Navy had been sent to help Green Bay’s Bellin Hospital treat COVID-19 patients. Evers hopes more resources will be sent to Wisconsin as the latest surge in infections continues to impact health care systems.

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