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Students and alumni serve in National Guard's COVID-19 response

Koyie Waples, a UNG cadet, and 2nd Lt. Olaide Adeyemi, a 2018 alumna of UNG, are part of the National Guard response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Numerous cadets and alumni of the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Corps of Cadets are working in various capacities in their roles as members of the Georgia Army National Guard to combat COVID-19. They disinfect nursing homes and decontaminate their colleagues who do so, work food banks, augment screening staff and serve as medics at hospitals, and assist with COVID-19 test sites.

They are part of a larger trend of those affiliated with UNG assisting both Georgia and the nation in the fight against COVID-19 in their current Army or civilian roles.

Capt. Charles D. Inglett, '13, Charlie Company commander of the 1st Battalion of the 121st Infantry Regiment in the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, has coordinated many of the diverse projects the Georgia Army National Guard is undertaking to help the state's COVID-19 response. This unusual challenge comes less than a year after many of his soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan.

"It's definitely new territory for everyone. We're trying to figure out the best way to help," Inglett said. "It shows the versatility of the National Guard."

Once the soldiers are on-site at nursing homes, the initial moments generally include an explanation to the residents or nurses about what they are there to do. This limits any confusion about the full-body personal protective equipment (PPE) they are wearing. 2nd Lt. Caleb Swope, '19, said he and his unit always bring the same message to allay any concerns as they disinfect nursing homes in places across north Georgia such as Rossville, Ellijay, Jasper and Blue Ridge.

"We're in this together. We're here to help," Swope said. "We're here to assist in any way we can in the community."

2nd Lt. Olaide Adeyemi, '18, is leading one of the teams sanitizing nursing homes. After she schedules visits, Adeyemi and two non-commissioned officers inspect each site to formulate a plan to disinfect everything. Adeyemi said the nursing home employees appreciate the National Guard's presence.

"They appreciate that people are there to help them," Adeyemi said.

Multiple current cadets who are members of the National Guard have been called up because of COVID-19. One of them is Koyie Waples, a sophomore pursuing a cybersecurity degree, who has been working in and around Albany, Georgia, one of the hardest-hit areas in the state.

"I love serving. Knowing I can go out and help these people means a lot to me," said Waples, a Dawsonville, Georgia, native who is a member of UNG's Corps of Cadets. "But seeing the relief and the happiness on the nurses' faces means more than anything else."

The Georgia State Defense Force (GSDF), a volunteer effort, works alongside the Georgia National Guard in the COVID-19 response. Six UNG alumni are part of the GSDF, led by Rusty Hightower, '66, chief of staff. Nathan Baker, '18, GSDF aide-de-camp to the commanding general, is proud of the collaborative nature of the fight against COVID-19.

"In the midst of the hardship and everything that has come because of this pandemic, it's been phenomenal to see people from different parts of the community come together for the common goal of getting us back on our feet," Baker said.

Other UNG alumni who have played a leading role in the GSDF are 1st Lt. John Baxter, '18, who serves as second battle captain, and Col. Tim Romine, '82, deputy G3 plans and operations officer.

Though not a cadet, UNG student and Guardsman Brody Morin is disinfecting nursing homes around Thomasville, Georgia. He is grateful for faculty who are working to ensure he can do what is necessary to serve while getting an education.

"This is what you sign up for in the National Guard is to help your community. We're doing the most that we're able to right now," Morin said. "I volunteered for this mission, and I'm glad to be on it."

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