Derek Goodburn works in the storeroom providing materials and equipment for AEP Ohio’s Columbus District. He’s also a traditional Guardsman serving part-time with the U.S. National Guard. So when Gov. Mike DeWine deployed these citizen soldiers to provide support in combatting the pandemic, Goodburn began a leave of absence with AEP and faithfully assumed his duty.

Goodburn (second from the left, kneeling) is part of a distribution team that has been organizing, assembling and delivering monthly boxes of food to senior citizens.

For the past three months Goodburn has been helping provide food to needy residents in Columbus. Working primarily out of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in Grove City, Goodburn has been assigned to the distribution section of Ohio’s relief effort, organizing, assembling and delivering monthly food boxes to senior citizens. He’s also assisted with drive-up food giveaways at Hollywood Casino Columbus and worked on an urban farm that’s under construction in the Hilltop area.

Pandemic-fighting was an unexpected but welcome assignment for Goodburn, who typically spends one weekend a month with the National Guard undergoing mortar and artillery fire training – a skill he hopes to rarely if ever use.

“It’s been really fulfilling. The chance to help out your state is what it’s all about,” Goodburn says. “They call us citizen soldiers because we’re part of the community. So it’s good to be able to help out in that way.”

Goodburn says people (and the occasional horse) have been overhelmingly grateful and thankful for the help he and other National Guardsmen are providing.

Goodburn served in the Army for 12 years but, after being stationed for several years in Hawaii, he started to feel homesick and wanted to move back home. He accepted a full-time position with the National Guard in Columbus and later found his way to AEP when his aunt – who also works at the company – touted the career opportunities here and said AEP treats veterans well.

Goodburn’s experience at AEP has offered immediate benefits in his new COVID-related role. A service center storeroom (where employees can pick up and order needed tools and equipment) is “basically a big warehouse,” Goodburn says, much like the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. He also has a commercial driver’s license and has been certified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which makes him uniquely qualified to operate both a forklift at the foodbank and a front loader at the urban farm.

With so many people in Columbus and across the state struggling, the National Guard continues to be needed. Goodburn’s orders have been extended a couple times already and, though he’s currently on assignment through the end of July, he may be serving for even longer. It’s a bittersweet responsibility for Goodburn, who sees the daily gratitude of the people he’s helping but also enjoys his work at AEP.

“I do miss it,” he says. “But right now this what we’re being called to do, and we’re going to help out in any way that we can.”

Published June 17, 2020

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