Soldiers ‘really take pride’ in volunteering for testing efforts as National Guard adapts to fight COVID-19

MADISON, Wis. – During a pandemic none of us signed up for, those who signed the dotted line to serve their country are adapting in ways they never could have expected, too.

The Wisconsin National Guard is adjusting to its new role in helping with COVID-19, which has only expanded over the weeks. About two dozen mobile teams are helping conduct testing statewide, already having served at nursing homes, jails and drive-through sites, including at the Alliant Energy Center starting last week.

“It’s certainly a new thing, but it’s sort of what the Army does and National Guard does,” Capt. Steven Schoeny said. “We certainly adjust to the situation. This is no different.”

Schoeny is officer-in-charge of one of three teams collecting samples from community members at the Alliant Energy Center. He said in the first few days, more than a thousand people came through to get tested. The site recently expanded its hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The test collection team is made up from members who do all sorts of jobs in civilian life. Schoeny himself is a registered nurse, while medic Will Hibbitts delivers water. No matter their background, Guard members have learned the specimen collection process.

“They come up to the car, I say hello, see how their day is going,” Hibbitts said. “I explain the procedure, let them know it’s painless, maybe a slight irritation, nothing too bad. I calm them down, set them at ease, then I just swab.”

The National Guard wears their own suits and masks outfitted for hazmat environments, which helps keep as much personal protective equipment available for others as possible.

“Staying in these suits that you see out there gets hot, it gets warm, so you sweat a lot,” Schoeny said. “Of course standing in one place for that amount of time absolutely gets tiring.”

He said soldiers cycle out every two hours. They’re able to sanitize the suits for reuse at their own decontamination station.

All National Guard soldiers helping out with testing volunteered to do so, according to Schoeny.

“All these soldiers understood what they were jumping into. They knew they were going to be helping the communities, and I think that’s pretty special … The soldiers really take pride in doing this,” he said. “We’re born in this community, we’re raised in this community and we certainly enjoy helping our community.”

“It feels good, doing what we’re called out to do,” Hibbitts said.

Schoeny said the team will remain at the site as long as health officials need them.