In 2020, more Iowa National Guard members were deployed overseas than any time during the previous 10 years.
However, at the same time, Guard members served on the front lines in Iowa as they responded to natural disasters and helped implement the state’s coronavirus pandemic response, Maj. Gen. Ben Corell told a joint session of the Iowa Legislature on Thursday.
Through those demands, “the condition of your Iowa National Guard remains strong,” said Corell, the adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard.
The Guard, he said, “is focused and is prepared to accomplish every mission we are assigned, whether at home or abroad.”
Not since the historic floods of 2008 did the Guard play such a diverse role in assisting Iowans, the Strawberry Point native said.
The Guard provided more than 200 soldiers and airmen to communities hit by the hurricane-force derecho in August. Their focus was on supporting power restoration in Linn County.
Also, using their equipment, Guard members removed over 1,400 loads of debris totaling more than 15,000 tons from 593 city blocks, he said.
More than 900 soldiers and airmen have been deployed to support the state’s COVID-19 response, Corell said. They drove more than 420,000 miles to ensure personal protective equipment was available to health care workers.
Guard members provided operations and management of 12 Test Iowa sites. Of the more than 500,000 COVID-19 tests completed, 70 percent were at those drive-through Test Iowa sites, he said.
They also made thousands of phone calls to support the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Call Center’s to track down and mitigate COVID-19 spread and, in November, began assisting with a patient transfer hotline to manage increased demands on hospitals across the state.
The Guard’s 168th Cyber Support Squadron worked with Secretary of State Paul Pate to safeguard the November election, “demonstrating how our federal missions are linked to the evolving threats we face here at home on a daily basis.”
While the Guard was supporting those efforts, it also provided more than 1,700 soldiers and airmen for active duty missions in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa, Corell reported. Nearly 400 soldiers and airmen are preparing to mobilize and deploy to those regions, he added.
Guard members also supported operations on the southwest border and California wildfires during the past year.
In 2020, the Iowa Guard filled 100 percent of the positions it was allocated, and Corell said it is making efforts to diversify and increase the percentage of women and minorities in its ranks, including leadership.
According to the Guard, Iowa is authorized 6,840 positions in the Army Guard. Eighty-two percent of the soldiers are male and 18 percent are female. Minorities make up 24 percent of the Iowa Guard.
Corell also acknowledged that sexual assaults, sexual harassment and retaliatory behaviors still happen and continue to be a problem for the military and for society.
“I remain committed to holding those who cross the line accountable and am focused on eliminating these actions and behaviors from our ranks,” he said. “Respect, trust and discipline are the foundation of unit cohesion and readiness.”
Leaders, he said, have the responsibility to build and maintain that foundation.
“We owe all (Guard members) an organizational culture that recognizes and values their contributions and sacrifices,” Corell said, adding it is his goal “to be the most trusted organization in the state.”