IT HAS BEEN more than two years since our lives abruptly changed because of a new virus. Now we are returning to something that feels normal and learning how to live with COVID-19. It has been a long and sometimes heartbreaking road, but I am filled with appreciation for those who kept us safe.
There are many examples of heroism, leadership, skill, professionalism, and grace under pressure: healthcare workers, teachers, first responders, frontline retail workers, and many others. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.
Any recognition of heroism, however, is incomplete without taking a moment to say thank you and celebrate a job well done by the New Hampshire National Guard. From the first days of the pandemic until now, the Guard has been there for every step of our state’s emergency response.
In early March, a half dozen men and women from the National Guard completed a multi-month deployment at Catholic Medical Center. We had a small ceremony to celebrate their commitment and dedication and to offer our sincere appreciation. The team worked side by side with our staff to deliver food, distribute supplies, and ensure the hospital was clean and sanitized. Without their work, getting through the delta and omicron surges would have made an extraordinarily difficult time for patients and staff nearly impossible.
Prior to that latest deployment, the Guard organized and staffed mass vaccination centers around New Hampshire to ensure as many people as possible could access those much-needed shots. In the earliest days of the pandemic, when COVID-19 tests were in short supply, the Guard set up testing sites in large parking lots so the public could safely and conveniently get swabbed. These men and women braved both bitter cold and sweltering heat—not to mention the threat of an entirely new disease—without ever hesitating.
In the earliest days of the pandemic, we got to work preparing for what we believed would be an overwhelming surge. Our team at CMC, along with our colleagues at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Elliot Hospital, the Manchester VA Medical Center, and a large deployment of men and women from the National Guard authorized by Governor Sununu, stood up the very first Alternative Care Site in New Hampshire. Over the course of a single weekend, we transformed The Stanley Spirou Field House at Southern New Hampshire University (thanks to our gracious hosts at SNHU) into a 250-bed field hospital. Think about it; a 250-bed field hospital in a single weekend. An extraordinary feat of logistics, hard work, and leadership with the NH National Guard at the helm.
I arrived home very late that Sunday night, exhausted but grateful and overwhelmed by the amazing responsiveness and teamwork of the National Guard. These were men and women with jobs, families and commitments, yet they dropped everything to step up and keep us safe and ready.
As a young man, I spent several transformative years in the United States Marine Corps. I loved being a Marine, loved the culture, the esprit de corps and our motto of Semper Fidelis — always faithful. I remain full of pride for that experience and obviously hold Marines in very high regard. Working side by side with the men and women of the NH National Guard has taught me a valuable lesson that the Guard brings the same level of dedication and commitment to mission. The National Guard’s motto is Always Ready, Always There. They have lived up to this motto—and continue to—never wavering at a daunting job and leading from the front at every step of the way.
The next time you see a member of the NH National Guard in the grocery store, at town hall, or at the little league field, please take the opportunity to thank them for their service and for helping New Hampshire lead the way through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alex Walker is president and CEO of Catholic Medical Center. He lives in Manchester.