Wisconsin National Guard leaders dispel more rumors over military response to coronavirus outbreak

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The Wisconsin National Guard’s top leader dispelled rumors almost two weeks ago that the military will be used to enforce coronavirus quarantines or the state will implement martial law.

But the rumors persist and Guard leaders on Wednesday again tried to knock down false notions that the National Guard will force people to stay in their homes to follow Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order.

Among the rumors were from people reporting seeing large trainloads of military vehicles in Wisconsin to enforce quarantines.

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“These rumors are patently false,” Wisconsin National Guard spokesman Capt. Joe Trovato said in a statement.

With large manufacturers in the state like Oshkosh Corp., which makes military vehicles, it’s not unusual to see humvees and Army trucks on rail cars or traveling on highways to train at military installations in Wisconsin.

National Guard leaders have not discussed enforcing statewide quarantines or shutting down highways.

“Unfortunately, there are nefarious actors — in some cases, from other countries — operating in the shadows and intentionally circulating false information and misinformation via social media,” Trovato said.

“We understand that these rumors are part of a concerted disinformation campaign aimed at creating hysteria and panic in our nation’s communities.”

On March 20 Mark Belling, a Milwaukee-area conservative talk radio show host, falsely told listeners that Gov. Tony Evers was issuing a shelter in place order and that the “Wisconsin National Guard has been deployed and is basing at State Fair Park to enforce the order.”

After Belling’s remarks, which the host later corrected, Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp spoke to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the same day to criticize the falsehoods. Belling later corrected his statement.

“There are people out there trying to instill a sense of hysteria across the United States because it’s to their advantage,” Knapp said on March 20. “It’s really important for us to make perfectly clear to the people in Wisconsin that the National Guard has in no way shape or form been tasked or asked to enforce any type of shelter-in-place (order).”

Wisconsin National Guard troops have been used a variety of ways in the coronavirus outbreak response:

  • Half a dozen medics spent three days working with staff at a Grafton nursing home where numerous cases of COVID-19, and one death, were reported.
  • Guardsmen will serve as poll workers at election sites around the state on Tuesday for the presidential primary and spring election because of an extreme shortage of workers. The number of soldiers and airmen who will be used for this task is not yet determined. Guardsmen will serve as poll workers in their home counties, in accordance with state law.
  • A small liaison team of guardsmen is working with the Wisconsin Elections Commission to offer advice, project management expertise and logistics support.
  • Guard members are distributing sanitary supplies to election sites including hand sanitizer, wipes and spray bottles.
  • Soldiers and airmen are helping with warehouse operations to receive and repackage personal protection equipment such as gloves and masks from the federal stockpile to send to health care and first responder sites around the state.
  • 30 troops drove Wisconsin residents who were quarantined on a cruise ship in California from Volk Field to their homes.

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