CONCORD, NH – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive demand for personal protective equipment, astute management of New Hampshire’s cache of masks, face shields, gowns and gloves is paramount.
The endeavor requires a full-time commitment of manpower and muscle to sort, store, secure and deliver a steady stream of PPE to first responders and healthcare professionals across the state.
Enter a dedicated team of New Hampshire Army National Guard citizen-soldiers.
Beginning March 27, eight guardsmen were activated to spearhead an around-the-clock warehousing operation in Concord.
“It’s been pretty straight out,” said Staff Sgt. Carey Morris, noncommissioned officer in charge. “We were stretched considerably thin in the beginning.”
The bolstered mission now features 15 warehouse warriors. Daily duties include stacking boxes, driving forklifts, loading trucks and delivering orders to distribution centers in Newbury, Londonderry, Epping, New Hampton, Franconia and Concord.
To date, nearly 1,700 orders comprising an estimated 100 tons of freight have been delivered.
“Most of the stuff from the Strategic National Stockpile is gone,” Morris said. “Now it’s starting to trickle in from FEMA.”
As the state continues to replenish supplies, the warehouse is quickly restocked on the backs of guardsmen working long hours, 6 – 7 days a week, sometimes late into the night.
One such order, a 91,000-pound, Easter Sunday shipment from China, left its mark on soldiers.
“I still have bruises on my arms,” said Spc. Kristina Sherman, a logistics specialist assigned to the mission. “Those boxes were big, and they were heavy.”
But despite the grueling work and long hours, morale is high and soldiers remain motivated.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” said Spc. Andre St. Laurent, who can usually be spotted running a forklift while sporting a wide grin. “It’s tough work, but it’s rewarding work.”
He zips around the warehouse like a kid in a go-kart, loading and unloading pallets of equipment.
“We’ve got a really nice rhythm going,” St. Laurent said.
When the team isn’t managing freight indoors, delivery runs have been welcomed breaks and chances to meet members of the community.
“The most rewarding thing is when you go out on a delivery, and people literally say ‘you’re a lifesaver,’” Morris said. “People are so excited to see us. They’re like ‘we have to take your picture!’”
The mission will extend indefinitely as the health crisis and PPE shortage persists. And there will be no shortage of dedication and commitment in the small contingent of supply soldiers.
“It’s about community and selfless service,” St. Laurent said. “I’m ready to support any mission that comes up.”