Around 2,000 members of the Estonian Defense League and women's voluntary defense organization Naiskodukaitse have participated in pandemic operations, helping out the border guard, at testing centers and nursing homes.
The ceremony had strict security measures this year. The best of the Defense League's 15 units attended via video link, while members of the year were present for the ceremony. Valga County man Anti Altement is also a Defense League youth instructor who works in timber in his civilian life. He was called upon when the first wave of the coronavirus hit in spring and border control with Latvia was restored.
"A few friends and I were the first sent to guard the border. I received a call at work that help was needed that night and we went after work," Altement said. "There were six- and eight-hour shifts and we sometimes left the shift at 6 a.m. to be at work two hours later."
Jane Koitlepp from the Sakala district was elected member of the year for Naiskodukaitse. She was tasked with finding additional people to help out at the Viljandi COVID-19 testing station, hospitals and the border. Families of women who went to the front lines of the crisis also needed supporting.
"Last year was a touchstone for Naiskodukaitse. We got the chance to put into practice what we have been teaching all along. Getting an opportunity to put what you've learned into practice is a great joy on the one hand. Some helped out at hospitals, some on the border, while some helped out in various other ways," Koitlepp said.
The Administrative Cooperation Act regulates so-called professional assistance that has been sought in the crisis by both the Health Board and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA). The law prescribes sensible compensation for helpers. Professional assistance contracts totaled 1,300 last year, while volunteers often helped out without any record, meaning their number is far greater.
The latest area where help has been sought is nursing homes.
"I believe that many realized that the Defense League is not just a military organization but one the aim of which is to help the state weather very difficult situations in various ways," said Brig. Gen. Riho Ühtegi, commander of the Defense League.
Even though the Defense League was sent to the front lines of the crisis right away, major outbreaks were avoided. Major trainings were postponed, while districts kept busy.
"We were less lucky in fall. There have been some minor outbreaks, while we have not seen an explosion. Protective gear, awareness, disinfection – we have made all of it available to our people and it has helped," Ühtegi added.
Editor: Marcus Turovski