Washington National Guard members build COVID-19 test kits

Team members express pride in being able to help during pandemic

By Joseph Siemandel, Joint Forces Headquarters, Washington National Guard on May 21, 2020

COVID-19 testing was one of the pillars of Gov. Jay Inslee's recovery plan for Washington state. Ensuring that test kits are readily available has been a team effort of the Department of Health, AmeriCorps and a dozen members of the Washington National Guard.

"Working with the Department of Health and AmeriCorps has been great. Our guys know how important this mission is and are excited to be here," said Maj. Jeff Rogers, a logistician and site leader for the Washington National Guard. "This is all logistics and supply chain management, so being a logistician working this mission is right in my wheelhouse."

Rogers, who recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan, got the call to be the site leader at the end of April and knew how important this mission would be.

"I'm super pumped to be on this mission and glad to do our part," said Rogers. "This mission is about getting the right supplies to the right place at the right time to get the right results and hopefully give everyone peace of mind."

Rogers' team of 12 Guard members works side by side with a dozen AmeriCorps volunteers. The volunteers put together the sterile test kit components, then pass them to the National Guard members to put the instructions and sterile test kit bag into an outer biohazard bag. The assembled kits are then packaged by Guard members into boxes for shipping to counties.

"A lot of quality control is happening to ensure that the test kits are properly created, packaged, shipped and tracked," said Rogers. "Making sure everything is sterile is critical. When new components come in for the test kits, they undergo a sterilization test to ensure the products are safe to use and will give an accurate test reading."

The Guard members on the mission know the importance of what they are doing, often building enough kits to run out of supplies. As of May 14, the group had assembled 28,306 kits for testing 141,530 people.

"I never expected I would do this when I joined, but that's what is cool about being in the Guard. You are doing things you haven't done before to help out your state," said Sgt. Mario Perez, a motor transportation operator with the 1041st Transportation Company. "It's awesome to be able to help out."

Perez, a security officer at the Port of Tacoma in his civilian capacity, has supported the COVID-19 response at multiple community-based test sites before building the test kits.

"It was a good job working at the test sites. People would come in scared not knowing what to expect and we were able to calm them down," said Perez.