Coronavirus response: National Guard stationed at Lakeland airport, overseeing food and water supply

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s an area usually utilized in the tense days after a hurricane hits. Now, there’s a pandemic. For the Florida Army National Guard, the mission is the same.

“It’s just for state emergencies and those supplies do last a long time,” said Capt. Chino Chen with the Florida Army National Guard.

He is overseeing 30 National Guard members stationed at the Wardbird ramp at Lakeland Linder International Airport.

Trailers serve as overflow containers for food and water from a state logistics area in Orlando.

It’s patrolled 24/7 by the Guard members.

“They can receive the actual supplies we need during this different time of emergencies, whether they might be ventilators, PPEs, whatever they might be,” Chen said.

Courtesy: Capt. Chino Chen

The site has not received medical supplies yet.

But food and water is being picked up and distributed on trucks throughout central Florida.

“This is the first time this is something outside of hurricanes,” said Gene Conrad, the Lakeland Linder International Airport director. “This is something we rebuilt in 2014 and 2015 for about $4.5 million. We worked with the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the state and also airport funds. We rebuilt this ramp.”

Conrad told 8 On Your Side it’s the perfect site for a long-term state emergency like this.

“Logistics here in the center of the state here, specifically in Polk County and Lakeland, is very robust. Having a facility like ours is very capable. It just makes sense, whether it’s the state or FEMA or others to respond to emergencies from this location,” he said.

This comes at a time when the local hospital, Lakeland Regional Health, is preparing supplies, equipment and staffing to handle 1,000 patients.

One day this week, Lakeland Regional Health was caring for up to 98 patients in the COVID-19 patient care unit, Lakeland Regional Health’s Michael Spake reported to Lakeland city commissioners this week.


  • Florida is reporting 85,926 cases and 3,061 deaths
  • Florida in Phase Two of reopening
  • Cases have spiked in past week, Gov. DeSantis says due to increased testing


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