Two Indiana Guard Reserve soldiers help coordinate security efforts at Columbus Regional Hospital.

Changing of the guard

COLUMBUS, Ind. – While an army of workers cleans the flooded basement and first floor inside Columbus Regional Hospital, fresh soldiers are patrolling outside, to make sure the building and its workers are safe and secure.

The Indiana Guard Reserve, or IGR, took over security on Friday when the Indiana National Guard, who was providing it, was redeployed on other missions, according to IGR Major Hal Grigdesby. “Obviously there is a lot of valuable equipment inside and there’s also an opportunity for mischief,” said Grigdesby, a Westfield resident. “With any kind of flooding situation, you have people who are interested in seeing what’s available for looting. So we have our presence to discourage that kind of thing.”

Most Hoosiers may not be familiar with the Indiana Guard Reserve. It is an all-volunteer force that supplements the National Guard in state emergencies. There are nearly 300 IGR members based at 66 armories across the state. Dozens of IGR members have already come forward to help.

Grigdesby said that members of the IGR have varied backgrounds in age and professional experience. “We have folks who are very young, 18, 20, 22 years old. And we have folks who have actually retired from the military, but missed it so much that they wanted to still be of value to their state,” said Grigdesby, himself, a veteran.

Many others, such as Officer Candidate John Hoenstine, have a law enforcement background. “I retired from the Indianapolis Police Department and I’ve taken a lot of training from FEMA and homeland security. I was looking for a place where I could put that training to use after I retire,” said Hoenstine.

That experience is helping IGR soldiers protect the hospital and the people working inside. IGR members are patrolling multiple locations, working 12-hour shifts. They are not alone in this mission. IGR leaders said additional support is coming from many other organizations, including the American Red Cross, police agencies, hospital employees and the people of Bartholomew County.

The IGR is scheduled to provide security at Columbus Regional Hospital at least through Saturday. So far the reviews from the hospital have been good, according to several members. “They just thanked me for making sure any onlookers did not come by,” said Private Lori Ahmed, a Camby resident. Colonel Bernard Hayes, Indianapolis, added, “We’ve gotten a lot of compliments from the hospital staff because they’re doing a hell of a good job.”

That pride of a job well-done goes a long way for IGR members, according to Major General Barry Green. He pointed out that these citizen soldiers do not get paid or reimbursed for mileage. The satisfaction comes with helping neighbors.

Staff Sergeant Paul Sabol, West Lafayette, appears to summarize how most IGR members feel. “This is an important mission to me, but I wish I wasn’t here because of everything these folks have gone through.”

Green added that he and his soldiers are sorry to see what has happened in Columbus. But he said that’s why the IGR exists. “One of the mottos for the Indiana Guard Reserve is Hoosiers helping Hoosiers. And that’s what this is all about.”

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