Governor Hochul Honors Prof. Kai Ruggeri for Military Service During the Pandemic

July 5, 2022

Governor Kathy Hochul and Major General Raymond F. Shields, Jr., The Adjutant General, New York Army National Guard, awarded Kai Ruggeri, assistant professor of health policy and management, a New York State Medal for Meritorious Service. The medal honors Ruggeri’s “sustained conspicuous performance” as a Future Operations Specialist as part of the New York Army National Guard’s Operation COVID-19. Officially serving with the New York Guard, he is one of only a very few service members at the rank of Specialist to ever receive the honor.

In his academic role, Ruggeri studies questions related to population behavior and decision-making, with a focus on how integrating behavioral evidence into policies can reduce inequalities and improve population well-being. Recent research has explored how policymakers can learn from people who overcome poverty and why political polarization is often not as bad as we think.

From December 2020 to October 2021, Ruggeri was part of a team tasked with coordinating the mobilization of thousands of service members while stationed at Camp Smith near Peekskill, New York, under the New York Army National Guard. His responsibilities were above those normally assigned to his rank and included using his skills in data analysis and geospatial mapping to organize mobilizations related to vaccinations, testing sites, professional skill development, and the re-introduction of monthly drills during the pandemic. The citation for his medal states he “played an essential role in developing Joint Force COVID Inactive Duty Training planning and enabled over 40 missions to continue operating while manning was significantly degraded. … Through detailed analysis, he enabled over 1,200 service members to attend Inactive Duty Training… In addition, he prevented the loss of over 4,000 days of staffing.”

Between October 2021 and May 2022, Ruggeri served in Joint Task Force COVID-19 South at Lexington Armory in New York City, and following the end of that mission, he transitioned to the U.S. Air Force/New York Air National Guard, where he will become an officer candidate. Ruggeri is also the lead author of a forthcoming publication about the role of military forces in public health and healthcare during the pandemic in New York State.

Ruggeri comes from a family of service members (father, grandfathers, godfather, uncles, cousins) and says he always had the desire to serve. He enlisted in the New York State Guard Reserve Corps in 2019, prior to his recent move to the Air National Guard. He says: “As an academic, I work toward solving problems in this country, some of which I have personal experience first-hand. Despite that, I still fully believe that what we have is worth signing up to defend. The opportunity to serve in this way is extremely important to me.”