PHOENIX — Since day one of the COVID-19 pandemic, National Guardsmen have been working six days a week, and two Valley women are helping lead the relief efforts.
Sergeant Jerrica Santana and Specialist Perla Hernandez are soldiers with the Arizona National Guard. Since day one of the pandemic, both have been working six days a week, providing food and supplies to communities in need.
In March 2020, Sgt. Santana was wrapping up her stint on active duty for the U.S. Army, planning on starting nursing school. She was at home watching television when she received a call to be on standby to possibly be deployed with the National Guard.
Sure enough, she was called into duty with the guard, and has been assisting with local food banks ever since, filling food boxes and delivering supplies.
"It’s already a year since it first hit, and people still need the help," said Sgt. Santana. "Whether that be clothing or a box of food, veggies and fruits and bread. They don’t care how long they’ve been waiting, just that sigh of relief whenever they get that box."
Friday, Sgt. Santana and Spc. Hernandez helped pack boxes of food with other soldiers at St. Vincent de Paul food bank in south Phoenix.
"If I can help anyone out, I’m all for it," said Sgt. Santana.
Spc. Hernandez has worked as a truck driver for the Arizona National Guard, driving to pick up and drop off supplies all around Arizona, even making trips to California.
"The smaller communities do need a lot of the help, but because they’re so small, it’s easily forgotten," said Spc. Hernandez.
In July 2020, Spc. Hernandez lost her father to COVID-19. "It was devasting," she said, telling us her father's failing health and death happened fast.
"It was sudden. It was like, 'Hey, your dad’s in the hospital.' Then 10 minutes later, it’s like, 'Hey, your dad passed away.'"
Spc. Hernandez said her dad always wanted to join the military himself, but didn't have the correct education requirements to join the service.
"That motivated me to do it. So I know for a fact that he’s so proud of what I’m doing right now," said Spc. Hernandez.
Military service is just the beginning for both women. Sgt. Santana and Spc. Hernandez are both planning to complete their nursing degrees after their stints with the guard.
"That’s a field that’s definitely stressful, but so rewarding, and I’m all for it," said Sgt. Santana.
"After the pandemic, it just made me realize how understaffed we are in healthcare and I would definitely like to be part of it so we can help each other out," said Spc. Hernandez.