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Washington Military Department 2022 Year In Review

2022 felt like a return to normalcy after 18 months of continuous activation for the employees of the Washington Military Department.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 continued to rapidly spread across the state leading to the activation of 100 Guard members to help alleviate staffing demands and offer testing capabilities at eight hospitals across our state. Guard members remained activated through the spring and finished the mission in March.

The first month also brought heavy rain and massive snow storms that slammed the state, causing massive flooding in parts of western Washington. Washington Military Department employees staffed the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to assist with local resource requests. Meanwhile, members of the Guard deployed to Lewis County to provide needed support to the communities dealing with rising waters. Just a week later, a team from the Guard deployed to Leavenworth to assist digging out the small mountain community that was hit with record snow fall.

Early storms were only the beginning for the SEOC, which remained activated for all of 2022. Managed by employees of the Emergency Management Division (EMD), the SEOC supported the response to a wide range of incidents including COVID-19, an active fire season, severe winter weather and flooding and associated recovery activities, the Mpox (monkeypox) Virus outbreak, the European Green Crab infestation, and an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. The COVID-19 response concluded as the longest-ever SEOC activation with 1,010 activated days as of November 30, 2022.

In addition to the SEOC activations, the Alert & Warning center coordinated resources for more than 950 search and rescue missions and 50 evidence searches, as well as 2,520 hazardous materials incidents, 396 reports of fire resulting in 15 state fire service resource mobilizations, processed 303 requests for resources, and delivered 10,377 notifications of weather advisories, watches, and warnings for a total of 4,740 incidents.

EMD also delivered two table-top exercises exploring critical transportation and mass care services as part of the Cascadia Rising National Level Exercise. More than 600 participants from 13 state agencies, 14 tribes/nations, 32 counties, 50 local governmental organizations, and community representatives attended the exercises.

The EMD Hazards and Outreach team also had a busy year. The team returned to in-person educational events and delivered information on preparedness and safety throughout the year at more than 80 events reaching nearly 18,000 people. The year kicked off with a strong social media and information-sharing campaign during the Tsunami Advisory in Washington from the January 15th Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption, which reached more than 1 million people. Nearly 1.4 million participants registered to participate in the Great ShakeOut in October.

While supporting multiple domestic missions, the Army National Guard deployed more than 100 members of the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team to Poland in support of the enhanced forward presence mission in the Baltic Sea region. Through the end of January and all of February, nearly 800 members of “Task Force Dark Rifles,” a combined arms battalion, returned from their nine-month deployment to Poland.

2022 marked the return of overseas engagements with the Kingdom of Thailand and Malaysia through the State Partnership Program. This year also marked the 20th anniversary of the relationship with Washington and the Kingdom of Thailand.

“We found some creative ways to work around COVID and we were able to get our Thai counterparts in Washington state in the second half of 2021,” said Lt. Col. Keith Kosik, director of the Washington National Guard’s State Partnership Program. “It is nice though to be able to get our folks back to Thailand and continue on the relationship building we have done for 20 years,”

In May and June, more than 250 Washington National Guard members took part in the yearly ritual of preparing for the pending summer wildfire season. While trained, equipped and ready to go when the call came, the fire season was mild and no fire deployments were needed.

As the midterm election approached, cyber teams from the National Guard activated to support the Washington Secretary of State’s office to assist with additional security of the state’s election system. The team was activated in August, as well as in October for the general election.

“This on-going relationship since 2014 continues to provide that extra layer of protection to what is already a very secure voting system in our state,” said Col. Thomas Pries, the commander of the 252nd Cyberspace Operations Group. “Every time we do this mission, we make the system even more secure. It is helpful when we are all on the same sheet, all working together with the same goal, that every vote cast in our state is accurate and secure.”

In November, the Washington Army National Guard took part in “Rainier Stampede,” the first-ever mass formation event and 5K run that exercised the Washington Army National Guard’s critical mobilization support functions while enriching the service of, and providing unified purpose, direction and motivation for all soldiers.

“We thank you for making this commitment today. We thank you for making the sacrifice to take time away from your families and other endeavors to stand together in this formation in the critical and honorable profession of arms,” said Brig. Gen. Dan Dent, commanding general of the Washington Army National Guard. “I am proud of you and I am so deeply honored to serve alongside each of you as you continue to serve this great state and the greatest nation ever formed.”

The Washington Youth ChalleNGe Academy continued to bring in cadets from across the state while practicing health and safety protocols to ensure operations and classes could continue.

In 2022, a total of 296 candidates registered on intake day. By Graduation Day, 246 commenced. In all, since 2009, there have been 3,410 graduates in the program. The graduating cadets of Class 2022-2 had an average 37.9 percent increase in their cumulative high school grade point averages. While the cadets of Class 2022-1 had an average 34 percent increase to their GPA Cadets returned to doing service work this year, committing thousands of hours to help clear trails and brush at local parks, for instance.

Youth Academy leadership are also continuing to explore options on a new Job ChalleNGe program for WYCA graduates to earn dual college and vocational certification credits.