NH guardsmen band together at call centers

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Sgt. Alexandra Tichy, a flutist with the 39th Army Band, New Hampshire Army National Guard, takes instructions from Kevin Myers, a supervisor at an unemployment call center in Concord, April 21. Tichy is one of 34 soldiers screening calls at the makeshift center, which comprises 22 musicians from the 39th. Guardsmen staff three call centers in the capital region to field thousands of calls, which were previously going unanswered. Photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Johnston, NHNG Deputy State PAO.

CONCORD, NH — New Hampshire guardsmen continue answering the call to support COVID-19 operations at employment security call centers in the capital region.

The endeavor has increased in scale since its incarnation as a small, 19-man operation at the state fire academy’s cafeteria April 2. The tally of soldiers and airmen has grown to 240 at four makeshift centers.

The manpower increase aims to mitigate a backlog of benefits claims the lone fire academy mission couldn’t handle. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Sean Pinsonneault, officer in charge of a newly erected call center on Hazen Drive in Concord, said thousands of claims went unanswered.

“They were barely making a dent,” Pinsonneault said.

Staff Sgt. Emily Fixler, a clarinet player in the 39th Army Band, New Hampshire Army National Guard, works the phone lines at an unemployment call center on Hazen Drive in Concord, April 21. Fixler is one of 34 guardsmen placed on active duty at the makeshift center, necessitated by the COVID-19 crisis and supervised by N.H. Employment Security. Guardsmen currently staff three similar makeshift call centers in the capital region. Photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Johnston, NHNG Deputy State PAO.

Pinsonneault, commanding officer of the 39th Army Band, joined the unemployment benefits battle with 21 fellow band members.

“In under 24 hours, they had to notify their employers, their families and figure out how they’re going to take care of their own lives and drop everything to come and help New Hampshire citizens,” Pinsonneault said.

Despite only receiving just an hour of formal training, interacting with the public by phone has been a natural transition for his musicians.

“We go out and we play performances for 50,000 people a year,” Pinsonneault said. “They’re able to connect with people on a basic human level, whether it be with music, or now, with their unemployment security.”

Staff Sgt. Emily Fixler, a clarinet player in the 39th, says the state activation adds to her career balancing act.

Sgt. Alexandra Tichy, a flutist with the 39th Army Band, New Hampshire Army National Guard, works a makeshift unemployment call center on Hazen Drive in Concord, April 21. Tichy is one of 34 soldiers screening calls at the makeshift center, which comprises 22 musicians from the 39th. Guardsmen staff three call centers in the capital region to field thousands of calls, which were previously going unanswered. Photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Johnston, NHNG Deputy State PAO.

“I’m also a full-time music teacher at Nottingham School,” Fixler said. “When I get done with my call shift with the guard, I go home and spend time answering emails for students, check student work and spend time answering emails from students.”

Despite the increased workload, she’s is grateful to be making a positive impact on the community.

“It’s been really rewarding work so far,” Fixler said. “The hardest thing is you want to help so bad, but you can only help so much. People call and say, ‘God bless you. God bless your family.’ They just appreciate you so much.”

The band’s state activation extends for at least 31 days.  Practice and preparation for this summer’s musical performances is no longer a main focus. But the commander couldn’t be more impressed by his soldiers’ daily performances behind call screens, working the phones.

“They care so much,” Pinsonneault. “I’m extremely proud of my soldiers.”