Command Sergeant Major Christopher Crandall has seen crisis before — in Iraq, during Hurricane Katrina, during the Baltimore riots in 2015 — but the novel coronavirus has presented a different challenge.
Meeting that challenge head on, Maryland Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment has stayed busy, delivering meals and guiding patients at Maryland coronavirus drive-thru testing centers.
It’s a crisis that few people predicted, but Crandall said he joined the military for this purpose: to serve wherever needed, at home or abroad.
Crandall enlisted in the Marines in 1992, three years after graduating from Severna Park High School.
“I decided that was the thing for me,” said Crandall, who had cousins and great-uncles in the military. “I just wanted to serve my country.”
He joined the National Guard in California before moving back to Severna Park in 2002.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, Crandall was at the Maryland Joint Operations Center, a branch of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in Reisterstown, helping to manage operations of Maryland Guardsmen in New Orleans. Two years later he was in Iraq. By then, no stranger to crisis, he was called to Baltimore City to help stave off any civil disturbances during the riots that broke out after the death of Freddie Gray.
Crandall’s outlook kept him grounded during the chaos. “You kind of adapt and go with the flow,” he said.
COVID-19 changed the narrative for Maryland’s National Guard.
“A lot of the people were very standoffish the first time they saw us in Baltimore [during the COVID-19 pandemic],” Crandall said. “The last time they saw the guard was when we were armed with our equipment during the riots in 2015. They saw a different side of the guard this time — not armed, giving out food, letting them know everything will be OK.”
The 175th Infantry has been a welcome presence at coronavirus testing sites at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, and at vehicle emissions testing sites in Glen Burnie, Bel Air and Waldorf.
Also, Crandall estimates that the guard has served over 1 million meals to families in need.
Despite the pandemic, soldiers have stayed calm and positive, Crandall said.
“We keep the soldiers motivated and give them the time off that they need,” Crandall said.
As someone who has been serving for nearly 30 years, Crandall is not surprised to see how selfless soldiers have been throughout the pandemic.
“I’m most proud to be their command sergeant major and that every time there’s a need, they answer the call,” he said. “And I’m proud to serve an [infantry] that dates back to 1776 and the Revolutionary War. I’m proud to serve my country and state. You serve for the people who can’t.”