Feature   Defense News

Collegiate Guardsmen in Kansas Respond to COVID-19

June 2, 2020 | BY ARMY STAFF SGT. DAKOTA HELVIE , Kansas Adjutant General Department

Things moved quickly for two University of Kansas students after the Kansas National Guard called them to duty in response to COVID-19. While juggling a full load of online courses, these citizen-soldier students jumped at the opportunity to serve their community.

"From receiving the warning order to the operations order, it was a two-hour window," Army Cadet Sebastian Dutton, a combat medic with the Kansas Army National Guard, said. "I was told I would be on orders and had that evening to pack and email all of my professors."

Kansas guardsmen conducting COVID-19 screenings.
DNA Test
Army Cadet Jessica Pal, a combat medic with the Kansas Army National Guard, transfers patient DNA from the swab to the tester to screen for COVID-19 at the Western State Bank Expo Center in Dodge City, Kan., May 18, 2020. Kansas guardsmen are supporting the Ford County Public Health Department with expanded testing in the community.)
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Dakota Helvie
VIRIN: 200518-Z-EN947-1008M

Currently attending KU for a bachelor of science in chemistry, Dutton has used this opportunity to incorporate his knowledge and education toward a real-world mission to help those in need.

Army Cadet Jessica Pal, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology student at KU and a combat medic in the Kansas Army National Guard, looks forward to the day she will be attending medical school to become a neurologist. Her eagerness and determination toward the medical sciences has only been amplified by the experiences she's gained while in the Guard.

"The Guard gives you experience," Pal said. "It allows you to work in the field you train in. I needed a way to afford school and gain experience. I knew that if I went with the combat medic option in the Guard, I would get a lot of medical experience and [that] would make me a better doctor."

Neither Pal nor Dutton has shied away from hard work while assigned to a COVID-19 drive-thru testing at the Western State Bank Expo Center in Dodge City, Kansas. The testing site averages over 20 sample collections per hour, supporting Ford County Health Departments' response to the pandemic. The two soldiers have kept busy collecting samples, processing, contact calling and meeting residents of the community.

Kansas guardsmen conducting COVID-19 screenings.
COVID-19 Screening
Army Cadet Jessica Pal, a combat medic with the Kansas Army National Guard, transfers patient DNA from the swab to the tester to screen for COVID-19 at the Western State Bank Expo Center in Dodge City, Kan., May 18, 2020. Kansas guardsmen are supporting the Ford County Public Health Department with expanded testing in the community.)
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Dakota Helvie
VIRIN: 200518-Z-EN947-1001M

"This is my first time actually experiencing Dodge City, it's awesome to get to know the people in the town, and they seem very friendly, very willing to be tested," Pal said. "I've done the swabbing, processing the labs and talking to the people. It has allowed me to learn a lot about certain symptoms that you wouldn't think were common and a lot of new discoveries. I didn't realize how often headaches could be a symptom."

Staying actively engaged in their duties and education goals, both cadets have been upbeat about the future and the opportunities in store for them with the experience gained from this mission. Even when there are hurdles to overcome, the future's still bright with the support from the university and fellow guardsmen.

"My professors have been very understanding with my absence," Dutton said. "I'm a chemistry major, so online courses don't really allow for labs during a pandemic of this nature, but we made it work. As a senior this year, the pandemic has caused me to readjust my projected graduation past spring of 2021 by adding a semester."

Kansas guardsmen conducting COVID-19 screenings.
Paper Transfer
Army Spc. John Champ, a motor transport operator with the Kansas Army National Guard, transfers collected samples and paperwork during drive-thru testing for COVID-19 at the Western State Bank Expo Center in Dodge City, Kan., May 18, 2020. Kansas guardsmen are supporting the Ford County Public Health Department with expanded testing in the community.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Dakota Helvie
VIRIN: 200518-Z-EN947-1005M

Both cadets are in KU's Army ROTC program, which prepares college students to succeed in any competitive environment. The leadership training and experiences that students gain in Army ROTC will provide them with a foundation to become commissioned Army officers upon graduation, they said.

"Ever since I joined, I knew I wanted to commission," Dutton added. "I enjoy leading at an operational level. I really excel at seeing the big picture and creating plans."

More than 2,000 lieutenants have commissioned through KU's Army ROTC program since its establishment in 1918. As Army officers, they may pursue additional specialized training, education opportunities and may be assigned to advanced leadership positions or staff positions.