OCTOBER 14, 2020 – Airmen from the Washington Air National Guard’s 194th Wing are taking part in an ongoing food bank support mission throughout Washington State during the COVID-19 emergency, including service at multiple locations in Lakewood. The airmen are working with Army National Guard soldiers to process, package and distribute food for individuals and families.
One of the sites the airmen are supporting is the Nourish Pierce County warehouse in Lakewood.
“We show up first thing in the morning, we load the first truck, then we start loading non-perishable food boxes. And when we’re caught up on that, we move on to building boxes,” Air Force Airman 1st Class Ian Storm, a cyber transport specialist with the 111th Air Support Operations Squadron, said.
Storm joined the food bank mission on April 1, 2020, at the Edgewood Food Bank before transferring to the Nourish Pierce County warehouse in June.
“It’s a well-oiled machine in terms of [distributing] and getting food,” Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Jenkins, the officer in charge at the Nourish Pierce County warehouse and Nourish’s mobile food distribution sites, said.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jameson Coulombe, a member of the 194th Security Forces Flight, began his service with Nourish Pierce County’s Lakes Area mobile distribution site in April, sorting food and loading vehicles. Later, he transferred to the Nourish warehouse. Coulombe said that he knows people who have been impacted by COVID-19.
“I wanted to do something to help,” he said. “I have been involved in six deployments, and it’s nice to do something local versus overseas.”
Coulombe said that having an impact locally is what motivated him to get involved in the food bank mission.
“I have the opportunity to actually help out the local community. It’s why I volunteered,” Coulombe said.
At a second warehouse across Lakewood, soldiers and airmen work to prepare food boxes for distribution. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chester De Guzman, a radio transmission specialist with the 111th Air Support Operations Squadron, described the work.
“We’re making boxes to bring up the line to the Army folks,” De Guzman said. “They’re loading them up with canned goods and non-perishable items.” On a typical day, the service members prepare around 2,000 boxes, according to De Guzman.
“Two thousand boxes a day will feed a lot of people,” De Guzman said. “We’re doing this five days a week, and I feel like it’s a good way to serve our community.”
Air Force Senior Airman Kelly Ford, a material handler in the 194th Logistics Readiness Squadron, started her service at a Seattle food bank in April. She volunteered a second time to help in Lakewood in August. Ford said that she joined the Guard four years ago to help people in need.
“I always see [the] National Guard on TV, and I was like, ‘I want to be part of that. I want to help with a mobilization and also fight overseas if I’m able to deploy,'” she said.
Air Force Airman Sara Mark came to work at the Nourish warehouse on a state active duty status as part of the 194th Wing’s student flight. It is the first time that student flight members have been able to come on state active duty to support domestic operations, according to Air Force Senior Master Sgt. John Austin, superintendent of the 194th Force Support Squadron. Mark recently completed Basic Military Training and is awaiting technical training to begin work as a personnel specialist. She said that she is happy to be part of the food packing team.
“It feels good knowing that I’m helping and making a difference,” Mark said.
Altogether, soldiers and airmen from the Washington National Guard have taken part in processing, packaging and distributing more than 55 million pounds of food since the start of the COVID-19 emergency.
Jenkins said he hears gratitude from community members daily.
“Every day we’re out at mobile food sites, we get to interact with the public there,” Jenkins said. “People are thanking us for being there, thanking us for our service.”
(Air Force Capt. Hans Zeiger is assigned to the 194th Wing).
BY AIR FORCE CAPT. HANS ZEIGER