Feature   Defense News

Airmen Aid Reserve Medics Combating COVID-19

June 3, 2020 | BY Air Force Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal , 621st Contingency Response Wing

Two airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing have been supporting the Defense Department's effort to combat COVID-19 since March.

Air Force Lt. Col. Curt Haase and Air Force Master Sgt. John Huck from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, have been embedded with the 64th Air Expeditionary Group to help bring Air Force reservists into the fight against the pandemic.

Soldiers and airmen working side by side.
New York Support
Airmen assigned to the 64th Air Expeditionary Group prepare to pack and return their Joint All-Domain Command and Control devices at a hotel in New York City, May 27, 2020. Armed forces personnel collaborate as an integrated system in support of the New York City medical system as part of the Defense Department’s COVID-19 response.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Xavier Navarro
VIRIN: 200527-F-LG053-0014C

Huck has been the lead for the four-person team made up of reservists from New Jersey and Pennsylvania as they processed nearly 300 airmen from various units across the country within the last eight weeks. Once they were processed through the joint reception center on the base, they were sent to hospitals throughout New York City, Connecticut and Massachusetts to assist civilian medical providers.

"Many of these reservists arrived and were eager to hit the ground running," Huck said. "Without much time to prepare, they've gotten here and are out there making a difference."

The majority of the Air Force's personnel contributing to the COVID-19 fight have been medical professionals, Huck said. "My job is just to get them where they need to be," he added. "Right now, they're going into the thick of things and dealing with some very sick patients."

The airmen, working in tandem with the Army's 44th Medical Brigade, have been supporting U.S. Northern Command, which remains committed to providing flexible DOD support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the whole-of-nation COVID-19 response.

Soldiers and airmen working side by side.
Military Support
Army Sgt. Johnny Autry, assigned to the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, confirms serial numbers of returned Joint All-Domain Command and Control devices at a hotel in New York City, May 27, 2020. Armed forces personnel collaborate as an integrated system in support of the New York City medical system as part of the Defense Department’s COVID-19 response.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Xavier Navarro
VIRIN: 200527-F-LG053-0024C

"I have a newfound respect for reservists and medical professionals," said Haase, the deputy commander of the 64th AEG and the commander of the 621st Mobility Support Operations Squadron. "They have been fearless and incredibly adaptive since they've arrived."

Haase, working out of a hotel in Manhattan, is providing the command and control function to ensure the health and welfare of the airmen working in the 64th AEG.

"This has been an incredible opportunity for me to see this team of airmen from across the U.S., from 29 different wings, come together and get after it," Haase said.

Hospitals in the northeast were tasked to manage increased patient populations despite staff shortages due to illnesses.

"Some of the hospitals were down to 60% manning," Haase said. "These airmen had to own entire wards of patients because of COVID-19."

Soldiers and airmen working side by side.
COVID-19 Collaboration
Soldiers assigned to the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion assist airmen assigned to the 64th Air Expeditionary Group in resetting their Joint All-Domain Command and Control devices at a hotel in New York City, May 27, 2020. Armed forces personnel collaborate as an integrated system in support of the New York City medical system as part of the Defense Department’s COVID-19 response.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Xavier Navarro
VIRIN: 200527-F-LG053-0003C

Despite the efforts of the 64th AEG medics, many patients they cared for were not able to recover from the coronavirus.

"The stress put on these airmen day in and day out is unbelievable," Haase said. "Many of them were at the patients' bedside when they passed. Some of them even volunteered to video conference with families so they could say goodbye. We may not have won every battle, but New York City is in a better place because of their efforts."

Haase attributes the team's success to their commitment to the job.

"[Air Force Reserve Command] was the contingency response force of this pandemic," Haase said. "Many of them responded to the call within hours of notification, and they pushed through every obstacle. I'm proud to be a part of this total force team."