By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s been a historic year for the Minnesota National Guard. Gov. Tim Walz called up all members for the first time ever.

From responding to riots and staffing COVID-19 testing stations, reporting for duty impacts more than the soldiers and airmen.

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Lately, Sgt. First Class Earl Rawls has been spending his weeks at a COVID-19 testing station.

“We mostly focus on getting people in, registered,” Rawls said.

It’s part of an ongoing National Guard mission to provide logistical support.

“It’s kind of unique we’d get activated for a state mission. It’s something I haven’t done in my 18 years of experience. I’ve been in that long and never got called up for any state, anything,” Rawls said.

Earlier this year, he and the full Guard also helped restore order after the death of George Floyd. The call-up happened at a moment’s notice.

The COVID-19 mission was more planned but it still creates a ripple effect. Rawls stays in a hotel away from home during the week while supporting the COVID-19 mission.

“Just those little moments in family life that you miss, so it’s pretty tough sometimes,” Rawls said.

His son Trey got his driver’s license while he was activated.  His wife Sierra says his absence creates a void, but they’ve learned to accept it and pick up the slack.

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“He’s doing something for a good cause and a good reason behind it. We’ve got to be his support for him while he’s doing this job,” Sierra Rawls said.

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Still the distance can be taxing on a family.

“It’s good to take a step back and realize these people are giving up and sacrificing a lot just so people can survive better in this time,” Trey Rawls said.

The mission also required Rawls to leave his job at BNSF Railway for an unknown amount of time.

“The biggest thing is we all understand why he’s gone, what’s going on, and that helps us step up and be very proactive in how we handle it,” Abid Raza with BNSF said.

Until he can return, others take on Rawls’ duties. He knows it takes collective support to allow him to support the state and our country in calm or crisis.

“My sacrifices, that’s what I signed up for. The National Guard will always be here and we’re going to support the best way we can,” Rawls said.

Rawls will continue on his current mission through at least December. His unit is scheduled to deploy overseas in the spring.

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November is Military Family Appreciation Month.

Jennifer Mayerle