NEWS | April 16, 2020

National Guard Operations Officer for Joint Task Force Illinois on State COVID-19 Efforts

By Michael Eastridge Illinois National Guard Operations Officer for Joint Task Force Illinois

WASHINGTON -- STAFF: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank you for joining us today.

Today, we have Lieutenant Colonel Michael Eastridge of the Illinois National Guard. He is the operations officer for Task Force Illinois.

Task Force Illinois covers about 15 different missions happening in the state in support of COVID response, and that encompasses roughly 500 soldiers -- or I'm sorry, service members in the state.

At this time, we'll go ahead and hand it over to Lieutenant Colonel Eastridge for opening comments. And any media on the line, I ask that you keep your phones on mute until you actually -- until you're called upon. That way, it reduces feedback on our lines. Thank you very much.

And without further ado, Lieutenant Colonel Eastridge.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL EASTRIDGE: Good morning. Thanks, Chris, for the introduction.

Just want to say thanks for this opportunity.

As Chris mentioned, I am the J3, or chief of operations for the Illinois National Guard Joint Task Force in response to the coronavirus. As you're aware, there are approximately 31,000 service members that are activated in response to the coronavirus. Illinois now currently has approximately 650 Air and Army Illinois Guard members to support the citizens of Illinois.

As the chief of operations, I monitor all operations within the state, provide the commander an extensive view of current operations. Chris touched on a couple of those already.

So working north to south for our missions here in the state, we are supporting the buildup of McCormick Place Convention Center as an alternate care facility. And this is in collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers.

We also operate multiple drive-through testing sites right now in Harwood, Markham, and Bloomington, Illinois, and more to follow that as determined by health officials.

We also are providing support to Cook County Medical Examiner's Office in the respectful movement of the deceased.

Service members are providing medical screening within two corrections facilities here in Illinois, Stateville and Sheridan. And this is to help to stop the spread of the virus in a confined area.

We also are supporting logistics for alternate housing facilities in Schaumburg, Springfield, and Mount Vernon. And these facilities are -- they'll allow family members to be able to isolate themselves if they don't already have the ability to do that. And this will help prevent the spread of the coronavirus within their own families.

We also have operations centrally located for warehouse activities in Springfield, and this helps consolidate and transport supplies throughout the entire state.

We have liaison officers also throughout all the different -- the entire state in multiple counties in Emergency Operations Centers. And this allows us to obtain clearer status of hospitals and if any -- there -- if there are any support requirements.

So the -- what's important for us, the Illinois National Guard has an outstanding civil-military relationship. All our missions are initiated by civil -- civilian agencies and in close collaboration with Governor Pritzker.

Our service members are definitely key to our success. As I mentioned, there are 650 service members on active duty. And our service members, because they're so important, are receiving proper training and personal protective equipment before conducting operations. I've sure you've seen many of our service members in masks and other protective equipment.

So what I'd like to do right now is to open up questions. And I guess I'll turn it back over to you, Chris.

STAFF: All right, Mike.

First up on the line, we've got Rose Thayer with Stars and Stripes. Rose?

Q: Hi. Good morning. Thank you for putting this together.

I just wanted to ask about the Guardsmen that you have on duty, I guess some of the ways you're ensuring they're staying healthy; and if you have the testing supplies that you need to test those service members that do come down with symptoms or if there is another way that you're -- you're managing potential COVID spread among them.

COL. EASTRIDGE: Sure. Thanks, Rose. Thanks for the question.

I mentioned briefly about the -- the personal protective equipment. So, every service member does receive training and the proper equipment before they go out. And it's all mission-dependent, so if they're in an area that does have the potential for high-risk transmission of COVID then they'll receive increased protective equipment, such as the N95 mask, and face shield, and gowns. So if the equipment's really important then the training with that equipment.

As far as testing goes, COVID testing is available for our service members and if they do have symptoms, they are tested. And we do have a procedure in place to make sure they're quarantined if needed.

Actually, to take it even a step further, one thing we also have done is we have multiple religious support teams available throughout the states to provide even more of the mental support if needed for our service members, as this is obviously impacting us on a personal level as well as a mission. So it's really important that we look at the service members' mental abilities as well and to protect them there too.

STAFF: Okay. Next up, we've got Jeff Schogol with Task and Purpose. Jeff?

Q: Thank you.

Colonel, I'd like to know, is the National Guard helping collect the remains of Chicagoans and other residents in Illinois who have died in their homes due to COVID-19?

Thank you.

COL. EASTRIDGE: Thanks for your question, Jeff.

The specific requirements, currently, for our service members is assisting our Cook County Medical Examiner's Office. And that is primarily just the movement of remains and it -- we'll not be going into any homes. It's movement from one facility to another. And it -- we want to make sure it's a dignified transport, so it's more just the moving from one facility to another and not going into anyone's homes.

STAFF: Okay. Mike, I've got one from the podium for you. As the task force has been going about its mission in the state, what kind of -- what kind of response have they received from residents of the state?

COL. EASTRIDGE: So I'd like to share a story that we had just the other day in our testing lanes. This is where we're able to test those that -- it's a drive-through testing lane, so they actually drive up and then there's a criteria they go through.

Well, in this process, in one of the lanes, one of the person's -- the vehicle broke down in the lane. And they -- our service members had to move the vehicle, they provided maintenance for that person and their vehicle in order for them to get them back on the road.

And the reason why I bring this one up, the children within the car later brought colored pictures to the service members, thanking them for their support. And what's really unique about this situation, it just so happens that those that are working at this testing site are not only medical professionals within the service, but also there are several that are from a maintenance company.

So they were -- they have dual role there and they were able to provide that support. So, it was nice to see the interaction with the civilian population, and then the response back from this specific family and helping them out.

STAFF: How has the cooperation between your task force and the state been?

COL. EASTRIDGE: I think that's where our success is. So if I had to point to one thing, the civil-military relationship has been absolutely outstanding.

Governor Pritzker's office has been great in consistent, constant communication with General Neely, our adjutant general. And we speak with General Neely on a daily basis, providing him an update on operations. So the flow of information is continuous throughout the operations and throughout the day.

STAFF: Okay. Thanks, Mike.

At this point, I'd like to go back to the phone lines, see if there's anybody we missed or if there -- or if either Jeff or Rose has any follow up questions at this point.

Okay. Well, Mike, we've exhausted -- we've exhausted our phone lines at this point. Do you have a closing statement you'd like to make?

COL. EASTRIDGE: Okay, just that I want to say thanks for the opportunity to portray our mission here as the joint task force and how we work closely with our Air and Army in order to execute the mission requirements set by the state agencies and Governor Pritzker. So on behalf of all our service members, thank you and we are looking forward getting past this difficult time in our life.

STAFF: Colonel Eastridge, thank you very much for joining us today. And I thank everybody on the phones for joining us as well.

This concludes today's briefing. Thank you.