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Showcase medics, relieving fears - offering hope

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Karri Roman, 375th Healthcare Operations Squadron Commander, Capt. Tilli Ghale, 375th MDG medical service corps officer

Scott Air Force Base, Ill. -- The 375th Medical Group deployed 39 medics between April and June 2021 to the Community Vaccination Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Minneapolis-Saint Paul as the Advanced Operational Node team members in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency response to battle COVID-19. 

While the deployed medics assisted communities across the United States battling COVID-19, the rest of the 375th MDG were battling the virus at their home station and providing patient care simultaneously. The unit had a specialized task force designated for COVID-19 testing and a separate task force to vaccinate our beneficiaries. 

“The thought of deploying stateside in support of FEMA challenged squadron leadership to prepare, train, and equip in ways not previously considered,” said Lt. Col. Karri Roman, 375th Healthcare Operations Squadron commander.

“A tremendous amount of hours went into planning and executing this mission. How do you take dozens of nurses and technicians out of the clinics for an undetermined amount of time without severely impacting how we deliver healthcare to our patients and military families?” added Roman. “Leaders had to ask the tough questions – what will we have to stop doing; what can we stop doing; where can we take a risk?” 

The 37 medics deployed to the CVC in Grand Rapids teamed with members from 17 different military bases and nine joint mission partners. Together they vaccinated 37,000 locals from the West Michigan region and contributed to over 221,000 vaccinations.

“The deployment directly supported Defense Support of Civil Authorities, a process by which U.S. military assets and personnel are requested and utilized for missions usually carried out by civil authorities,” said Capt. Tilli Ghale, 375th MDG medical service corps officer.

“The military is usually the first to move in and out of contingencies, but the roles are reversed in DSCA. To experience a magnitude of operation like the one at the Grand Rapids CVC was an astounding opportunity for our airmen,” Ghale explained.

Training requirements for 37 Scott medics and the identification of a bottleneck in the vaccine distribution process, hampering the flow by 50%, was accomplished by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Martinez, 375th Medical Support Squadron CVC superintendent.  

“As the superintendent on this mission, it was a humbling experience to lead our medics in this unique task,” said Martinez “Once boots got on the ground, we were eager to work side by side with civilian hospital employees in Grand Rapids. More than half of our Airmen have not deployed, and to get this experience is once in a lifetime.”

“The Grand Rapids mission was successful because everyone bought into what their role was,” Senior Airman Long Sharrdan, a 375th MDSS diagnostic imaging technologist. “It was no coincidence that we have zero incidents and accidents while being there. That is what our team does.”

Senior Airman Britney Sanchez, 375th MDSS medic established a three-member team for Spanish translation services, curtailing a service shortfall, and providing exceptional service to 130 Latin American patients.

The 375th MDG contingent in the Minnesota and St. Paul area were able to provide 87K shots, and fully vaccinated over 43K locals.

“It was an amazing opportunity to lead a diverse team of 135 personnel from across 24 Air and Space Force Bases with 54 different AFSCs,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Huot Advanced Operational Node superintendent. “These members helped increase the State’s first dose rate by 18% and reduce the local infection rate by 33% in eight weeks.”

The 375th MDG medics, were highlighted via regional and national channels and secured multiple medals, awards, and recognitions from the civilian and DoD leadership for their outstanding work. 

“The number of people vaccinated is surely impressive, but one of our greatest accomplishments is the lasting positive impression we forged with the community,” said Capt. Richard Larson, 375th HCOS nurse practitioner. “This community will know that when their people were suffering and needed help, our military answered their call. In those moments, we were providing care and comfort, relieving fears and anxieties, and offering hope. I am proud to have served alongside and be written into this community’s story.”