Serving the state and nation in the Minnesota National Guard

Published 9:48 am Monday, March 7, 2022

The National Guard isn’t always about members giving back. Some officers see the Guard as a means to a goal. 

Such was the case with Sgt. Brendan Barna, a squad leader in D-Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Battalion.

Sgt. Brendan Barna is a squad leader in D-Company 2-135th Infantry Battalion. Provided

“I joined the National Guard to pay for college with the intention of later commissioning as an officer in the active duty Army,” Barna said via email. “Growing up I had always wanted to be an officer in the Army. As I progressed in life, I realized that I had other interests that changed my mind and career goals.”

And while typical life changed for almost everyone when COVID-19 arrived roughly 24 months ago, some changes haven’t been as drastic as others.

“Life in the Guard has been minimally impacted by the pandemic,” he said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, the Guard went a few months without drilling in-person. We had Zoom meetings and operated remotely.

“After things settled down, our drills went back to normal — just with masks.”

Other changes the Guard made to reduce the spread of the disease included quarantining, social-distancing and random COVID testing.

Within Minnesota, soldiers and airmen were also tasked with becoming certified nursing assistants and temporary nursing assistants to help support health care workers and shortages in long-term care facilities and transitional care units.

According to Barna, more than 400 guard members received that certification and have served in over 35 facilities.

“I received the CNA training and I am working in a facility near my home,” he said.

Since October, the Guard has supported community-basted testing sites and tested over 160,000 Minnesotans.

But it’s not just citizens who have benefited from the Guard’s help, and Barna said the soldiers and airmen have gained new experiences and skills they can now use in their careers. 

The work has helped him learn to adapt to different situations and environments.

“Regardless of the situation the National Guard must be ready to do whatever missions we are tasked with in our communities, state and nation,” he said. “Just like our motto, we are ‘always ready, always there.’”

‘I wanted to serve my country’

One reason people join teams is to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves and feel proud of.

That was the reason Pfc. Nathaniel J. Nelson joined the National Guard.

“I wanted new challenges in life and I wanted to serve my country,” Nelson said in an email. “I wanted new opportunities in life and knew that joining the National Guard would help those opportunities for me.”

But what makes Nelson’s situation different is that he’s never experienced life in the Guard without a pandemic.

“My entire experience has been during the surge of COVID,” he said.

So far, he admitted his experience has been similar to life outside the National Guard.

“We take extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID, especially when traveling,” he said. “Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is something the National Guard takes very seriously.”

And while Nelson doesn’t have a pre-COVID timeline to compare to, he has learned a few things.

“I’ve learned not to take life for granted,” he said. “Staying healthy and taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID is very important if we want to get through this pandemic.”