How does the National Guard keep people safe during a pandemic? By cleaning, sewing and packing

Members of the Massachusetts National Guard complete COVID-19 testing on residents at a nursing home in Brockton, Mass.

(CNN)If there's one thing the Covid-19 crisis has taught us, it's that unusual times call for unusual solutions.

That's why in Rotterdam, New York, a group of trained soldiers and airmen sat in a call center for weeks, taking more than 118,000 calls from concerned citizens asking about the coronavirus.
And it's why in Aurora, Colorado, some members of the Air National Guard's 140th Wing Aircrew Flight Equipment shop stopped making parachutes and brandished their specialized sewing skills to make more than 500 facemasks for their community.
An aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 140th Wing, Colorado National Guard assists with making facemasks.
Across the country, members of the National Guard are adapting their usual response efforts to fit a crisis that has no precedent.
    During the ongoing pandemic, their missions are sometimes -- for lack of a better word -- a little unconventional. After all, there aren't too many movies or TV shows where soldiers and airmen are shown bagging testing kits or helping sanitize elder care facilities.
    But these efforts, unglamorous as they may seem, are what really keep people safe.

    Navigating a crisis without a blueprint

    New York Army National Guard members assemble novel coronavirus  specimen collection test kits at the New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center in Albany.
    USNG members, whether part of the Air National Guard, the Army National Guard or other specialty reserve forces, are trained servicepeople who hold civilian jobs until the time comes for them to step in and serve. They are a common presence after disasters like severe weather or man-made attacks, which is when their special skills are acutely needed.
    Eric Durr, the director of public affairs for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said there's an old line about the Guard's duties in such disasters: "We guard stuff, we move stuff, we pick stuff up."
    For instance, he said, after the September 11th attacks, members of the New York National Guard were called to help with security, logistics and traffic control. During tornadoes and hurricanes, National Guard members may help distribute aid or move rubble and downed infrastructure.
    "But this isn't that kind of disaster," he said. "And it doesn't demand our usual competencies."

    Cleaning cars and answering phones

    Members of the West Virginia National Guard perform COVID-19 decontamination of first responder vehicles.
    Guard members have a wide variety of skills and specialties. They also pick up new ones depending on the crisis they are helping with.
    For example, members of the West Virginia National Guard recently cleaned and disinfected hundreds of ambulances and police cars to help lower coronavirus risks for first responders.
    In Georgia, almost 1,000 airmen and soldiers helped disinfect more than 120 nursing home facilities in the state, and other state Guards have undertaken similar measures to protect elderly citizens.
    In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo assigned the Guard one of its biggest missions: Manning the statewide call center. From March 11 through April 20, dozens of National Guard members worked nights and weekends answering calls until enough state employees could be brought in.
    Now, as states ramp up their demand and capacity for testing, Guard members in New York and elsewhere are working, assembly-line style, to put together testing kits for medical use.
    This type of work, Durr said, isn't usual. But as the pandemic has depleted both human and emergency resources and opened up unusual pockets of need, it's absolutely critical.
    "The soldiers and airmen who belong to the National Guard, they're manpower," Durr said. "But they've also been trained. And what the military trains you to do is look at a problem, analyze it and do something."

    Packing, translating and testing

    Space operators for the California Air National Guard's 216th Space Control Squadron deliver food to residences in Orcutt, California.