Three flights of Hawaii National Guard soldiers returned to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Sunday from last week’s inauguration duty in Washington D.C., with a final flight expected within days.
Nearly 200 citizen soldiers will be mobilized for 31 days with duty in the nation’s capital, processing back home, 14 days of at-home quarantine and a couple days of leave, said Hawaii National Guard spokesman Jeff Hickman.
Hickman said the Hawaii troops were medically screened before every shift in D.C., and as they’ve returned home, they’re getting temperature-screened again and tested for COVID-19.
No coronavirus turned up in the ranks so far, but the results of testing remain to be seen, he said. Even with a negative test result, they will have to quarantine at home, he said.
Hickman said the cost for the mobilization is being borne by the federal government under what’s known as Title 32 that maintains control of the Hawaii troops under Gov. David Ige.
Hickman said the cost for the Hawaii effort won’t be known until later. The National Conference of State Legislatures provided a ballpark figure for ongoing use of the National Guard for COVID-19 relief, saying the tab can run as much as $9 million per month per 1,000 troops mobilized.
About 800 Hawaii Guard troops remain mobilized for coronavirus help locally. President Joe Biden changed the federal payment to 100% for state COVID-19 relief duty from 75% under the Trump administration — a shift that U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said will save Hawaii millions.
The Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery, and 227th Brigade Engineer Battalion flew out to Washington D.C. and back on three Hickam-based KC-135R refueling tankers and one C-17 cargo jet, officials said. The Hawaii Air National Guard’s 203rd Air Refueling Squadron and 204th Airlift Squadron provided the airlift support.
“The flights were covered by federal dollars at no cost to the state,” Hickman said. “They were also used as training sorties for the crews from the Hawaii Air National Guard.”
Face-masked troops toting M-4 rifles disembarked Sunday from one KC-135R at Hickam and were greeted with elbow bumps on the tarmac from Brig. Gen. Dann Carslon, commander of the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing, and Col. Tracey Omori, chief of the joint staff of the Hawaii National Guard, among others.