SWANTON, Ohio — As COVID-19 continues to infiltrate our lives, the Ohio Air National Guard is working to ensure it doesn't infiltrate the country's defenses.
Several airmen with the 180th Fighter Wing are now vaccinated against COVID-19. The wing commander exclusively told WTOL 11 this is the latest move to prove the National Guard is fighting the pandemic alongside all of us.
"We need to be able to execute the mission, even in the midst of the pandemic," said Col. Michael DiDio, commander of the 180th Fighter Wing. "So what we call 'mission assurance' is critical to the wing to make sure that if we're called upon, we can answer our nation's call."
DiDio was among the first in line on Sunday to get vaccinated. He said roughly 10% of the Wing's force -- between 100 and 150 airmen -- will be vaccinated for national security purposes.
"For the most part we're a younger, healthier force within the military, but it's not just about them," DiDio explained. "It's about the airmen around them and it's about executing the mission and making sure we can do that and not have a pandemic or an outbreak slow the mission down and potentially put our national security in jeopardy."
The 180th's mission extends far beyond the air these days. In fact, much of its effort is focused on the ground, helping to mitigate COVID-19 in our community.
"We've had airmen go to food banks to help the needy with food," DiDio said. "We've had airmen go to facilitate state staff, like at prisons and places where the pandemic broke out. The governor went to the National Guard to help augment those forces. And then lastly, something that we saw this year as well is civil disturbances across the state."
That's on top of 450 airmen currently deployed to the Middle East.
DiDio says that's the name of the game and he hopes the 180th is leading by example.
"It should send a signal that we're here to protect the nation. The more immune we are to the pandemic, the better we can do that job."