They didn’t wait to be called.

The Washington National Guard reached out to Washington State University, offering to help the WSU Pullman campus face the unprecedented challenges of the persisting COVID-19 pandemic.

Army National Guard Lt. Darcy Ailles in a mask at the WSU Pullman COVID-19 testing facility
Lt. Darcy Ailles at the National Guard’s COVID‑19 testing site on the Pullman campus in November 2020. (Photo Robert Hubner)

Despite transitioning to mostly distance learning for the 2020–2021 academic year, an unexpected number of students returned to Pullman in the fall, and the campus experienced an outbreak.

The Guard ramped up WSU’s response to help #CougsCancelCOVID. From September 8, 2020, to January 13, 2021, Guard members conducted more than 4,700 COVID-19 tests.

Not only did they volunteer, they extended their stay, leaving their own families, friends, and homes to care for the Cougar community. Members of the Washington National Guard were originally slated to leave Pullman on November 20 but they extended their stay, ultimately serving through mid-January.

In a special video message to the Guard, Mary Jo Gonzales (’95 MA Comm., ’01 PhD Higher Ed. Admin.), vice president of student affairs, said, “We’re so appreciative of your sacrifice, work ethic, willingness to help, and ongoing efforts to serve our students, faculty, and staff.”

WSU President Kirk Schulz thanked the Guard for its “invaluable service to our campus, and for keeping Cougs and the greater Pullman community safe and healthy during this challenging time. We are grateful for your assistance.”

When the Washington National Guard was activated in response to the pandemic, it was considered an involuntary action, meaning all hands on deck. From August 24, though, it was an all-volunteer effort.

Guard members, including WSU alumni, set up mobile testing sites around campus and the city of Pullman, including on basketball courts and in the “Apartment Land” neighborhood near campus. That’s where they saw an increased number of test requests, with landlords giving incentives like rent reductions and gift cards for their residents to get tested. They also saw an increase in tests when they were made available to WSU faculty and staff on September 29.

On a typical day, the outfit was set up by 9:00 a.m. and administered anywhere from 30 to 90 tests. Swabs were counted and stored for collection by Incyte Labs, which tested samples in coordination with WSU’s One Health Diagnostic Laboratory.

The site’s officer in command, Lieutenant Darcy Ailles (’19 Arch.) had lived in Pullman for six years. So, he says, “I wanted to come back and help those who helped me.”

US Air Force Technical Sergeant Angela Brown (’18 Nursing) called the experience “extremely rewarding.” While still on campus helping with testing, she told WSU News, “You can see the appreciation and thankfulness in the faces of those who come for testing and hear it when they say thank you.”