ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Each month, WALB and Montlick and Associates recognize the Heroes Among Us by spotlighting an active duty man or woman, a veteran, or a fallen hero.
Sgt. Darryl Benton, Jr. has spent seven years in the National Guard, including a tour in Afghanistan, but the battle he and his fellow soldiers are fighting in Southwest Georgia right now hits home.
"Whenever there were storms or anything in Albany and the state got activated, I was there," Sgt. Benton said of his hometown of Albany's recent brushes with hardship.
When returning from a deployment in Afghanistan, he and his fellow soldiers were greeted with a hardship few saw coming.
"We came straight into the COVID-19," he explained. "No one was expecting that to happen."
He answered the call, and has been serving on one of the Georgia National Guard’s infection control teams, battling the coronavirus on the front lines.
"It's an invisible enemy, but it is an enemy because it is taking us out," Sgt. Benton said. "At the same time, like all other enemies, it can be beaten."
They go into long-term care facilities like nursing homes and personal care homes across Georgia.
Their goal is to disinfect the entire building, and now, to test every single long-term care facility resident and staff member in the state.
So, he comes face to face with residents who very well may have COVID-19.
"You're already in the mindset that you're trying to help the other person," he explained. "You don't know who has it or who doesn't, just like when you're going into Walmart. You have to treat everybody as if they have it."
Instead of him testing resident after resident, he draws on memories of a loved one's time in a facility like these.
"A lot of things I do, I do it from my heart," Sgt. Benton said. "My grandmother was in a nursing home."
He explained that it has been tough thinking about the solitude these residents are having to deal with right now.
"I remember there were times where no one would come and sit and talk with them if it wasn't for family," he said. "At these times, families are not able to go into the nursing homes. So, we are their families at these times."
So, he said he tries to treat them with respect and kindness and boost their morale.
"From sparking up a conversation, to talking about their past, to anything they want to talk about...you just have to be open," said Sgt. Benton.
The guardsman said while he knows this work is for the good of the public, his five young kids, who are ages 10 and younger, are always at the back of his mind.
“That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing and our fight is so important with this COVID-19 is to make sure not only we are safe but to make sure our kids are safe as well,” he said.
If you know a current or former military member, veteran, or fallen hero you want to nominate for WALB’s “Heroes Among Us,” click here.