We discovered an interesting story of a retired National Guard officer who decided to return to duty to assist combating the global pandemic. Lt. Colonel Kevin Swab served in the National Guard for decades, and in multiple combat zones, recently commissioned in the New York Guard (State Defense Force). He has been on active duty supporting & assisting the National Guard.
Retired NY National Guard officer back in uniform for pandemic response
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Eleven years after retiring as a full-time New York Army National Guard officer, Kevin Swab, a combat veteran and veteran of the National Guard response to 9/11, is back in uniform and serving his state once again.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck New York in March, Col. Robert Mitchell, the New York National Guard’s Director of Operations, reached out to Swab and asked him to join the New York Guard, the state’s self-defense force, to help.
The New York National Guard needed experienced operations officers to staff seven joint task forces that were being set up to deal with the pandemic, Mitchell recalled. The statewide scope of the pandemic was tremendous and there had never been a need to staff that many task force headquarters at once, he explained.
So he reached out to retired New York Army and Air Guard officers to see if they could join the New York Guard and come back on duty to help, Mitchell said.
That phone call got him energized, Swab, an Auburn resident, recalled.
“I had been considering joining the New York Guard for a few years but have been busy with work,” Swab said.
Now it was clear he was needed.
Swab, who was already teleworking at home from his civilian work as an Enrollment and Scholarship Officer for the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Cornell University, jokingly told Mitchell, “let me ask my wife.”
“Leaving my wife and two children wasn’t easy, but when after serving most of your life, it would be tough to say no when asked,” Swab said.
Swab’s wife Lindsay also served as a captain in the New York Army National Guard, including serving at Ground Zero in New York City following 9/11. She was supportive and encouraged his return to service, Swab said.
“She had no issue with me signing,” he said.
“I did a quick accession into the New York Guard and on April 8th I was on duty in Scotia working with the 109th Airlift Wing,” Swab said.
The New York Guard, the state defense force, is comprised of volunteers who serve the state as an augmentation force to the National Guard during crisis or disaster, such as severe weather or in this case, a global pandemic.
These volunteers donate their time for training and drill and are available for state active duty response missions in times of need. Many of them, like Swab, have a wealth of private military service while others – ministers, lawyers, and medical personnel—have valuable civilian skills.
Ninety members of the New York Guard served in a variety of roles as part of the New York National Guard response to the pandemic. They provide expertise on joint task force staffs or logistics and warehousing support.
Swab retired after serving in both the active Army and Army National Guard starting in 1987.
His career began in the New York Army National Guard as a rifle platoon leader before leaving for active service and deployment to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm in 1990. In 1994 he deployed again, supporting Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti before returning to the National Guard full-time in 2000 in the Active Guard/Reserve program as a battalion operations officer.
Swab planned the deployment of Soldiers for Operation Noble Eagle in 2001, the statewide enhanced homeland security missions for his battalion, providing Soldiers to assist security at commercial airports statewide.
He retired as a major in 2009. Coming back into service felt right, he said.
“It was good to be asked, so I said yes,” Swab said.
In that regard, Swab is not alone.
Also returning to the force after retirement was New York Army National Guard Col. Peter Riley who was leading the joint task force handling operations in upstate New York before a reorganization of the force.
Riley retired after a 30-year career of military service in June 2019, which included serving as the full-time State Active Duty commander of Joint Task Force Empire Shield, the New York National Guard security force in New York City. He experienced a similar call to bring his leadership and experience back in a time of need as a member of the New York Guard, Riley said.
The two were working together, as commander and executive officer of a task force that stretches from Buffalo to Syracuse to Binghamton and Albany with about 500 Soldiers and Airmen of the New York National Guard.
“Swab’s time and service in the military and his time being an ROTC instructor has perfectly groomed him for situations like this,” Riley said. “It was great to have him brought on mission as my XO.”
Mitchell had an opportunity to thank Swab and recognize his future potential as part of the New York Guard on July 8 during a visit to warehousing operations for state stockpiles of medical supplies in Oriana, New York.
Mitchell pinned on the silver oak leaf of Swab’s new rank as a New York Guard lieutenant colonel.
Swab still hasn’t completely left behind his full time work with the Cornell Army ROTC program, he said.
Even as he visits mission sites and speaks with Soldiers, he promotes the idea of officer training and the career opportunities as a commissioned officer.
He still hands out ROTC promotional items to Soldiers to spark their interest in an officer’s career.
“I plan on staying on duty a while and will see where I can fit in with the New York Guard after this is over,” he said.