Feature   Defense News

307th Medical Squadron Returns From Combating COVID-19 in New York

June 17, 2020 | BY AIR FORCE MASTER SGT. THEODORE DAIGLE

The last group of deployers from the Air Force Reserve’s 307th Medical Squadron returned to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, June 5 after aiding New York in its battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nine members of the unit deployed to New York in early April, in response to calls for help from hospital staffs overwhelmed by the coronavirus. According to the city government's website, New York endured more than 200,000 confirmed cases from February until the end of May.

Airman stares across flight line while wearing mask.
307th MDS returns from New York
U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Paula Bomar, 307th Medical Squadron nurse, arrives at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, June 5, 2020. She was the first person from the unit to deploy to New York during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bomar deployed in less than 72 hours after being activated.
Photo By: Master Sgt. Ted Daigle
VIRIN: 200605-F-YH293-1038

Air Force Staff Sgt. Trevor Talbert, a technician with the 307th Medical Squadron, said the situation was dire when the airmen arrived.

''The civilian staff at my hospital was burned out and depleted,'' he said. ''There were at least 40 patients on my floor, and the numbers didn't start to go down until last week.'' He explained those numbers included a broad age demographic, with patients ranging in age from 20-somethings to octogenarians. ''COVID-19 does not discriminate,'' he said. ''They all struggled.''

The airmen's efforts helped save lives, but they had to learn to deal with losing patients as well. Talbert spoke about leaving the bedsides of patients at the end of a shift and returning the next day to find out they had died. ''It makes you appreciate the important things in life,'' Talbert said. ''It never became normal, and I'm glad because I didn't want to become lax about treating them.''

Airmen wearing face masks pull rolling suitcases while walking on a flight line.
Airmen Return
Airmen assigned to the 307th Medical Squadron arrive at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., June 5, 2020. The group deployed to New York City on less than 72 hours’ notice in early April to help the medical personnel fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. Theodore Daigle
VIRIN: 200605-F-YH293-1033

Air Force Capt. Aaron Biggio, a nurse with the 307th Medical Squadron, said hospital staff, patients and even the public showed deep appreciation for their efforts. He said people in the neighborhood would lean out of apartment windows, cheering for them during shift changes. ''I'd get thanked in the streets by total strangers, often with tears in their eyes,'' he said. ''There is no one in New York who doesn't know someone else affected by the disease.''

Talbert said the airmen did their best to serve the patients beyond standard medical care. He recalled using his cellphone to set up video chats between patients and loved  ones. ''We were the only family they had while they were under our care,'' he explained.

Most airmen deployed to the region with a focus on direct patient care, but a handful also took part in research efforts designed to learn how to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on hospital workers.

Airman takes luggage from carousel at airport.
307th MDS returns from New York
Staff Sgt. Trevor Talbert, 307th MDS aerospace medical technician, grabs his luggage after arriving in Shreveport, Louisiana from New York, May 28, 2020. Talbert was in the city helping civilian medical personnel there fight against COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)
Photo By: Master Sgt. Ted Daigle
VIRIN: 200528-F-YH293-1004

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cynitra Roberson, the squadron’s immunization noncommissioned officer in charge, took part in patient care, but also served as part of a research team trying to determine if the safety protocols put in place were effective. She and other team members tested almost 500 medical workers. Though the research results remain to be determined, Roberson said, she gained personal insight from the experience.

''It was really neat and something different,'' Roberson explained. ''I worked with really good people, and it was a great experience.''

Throughout the deployment, the airmen worked 12-hour shifts and, in some hospitals, faced patient loads well beyond normal capacity. Biggio said he would do it all again, regardless of the hardships involved.

Airmen depart a C-17 Globemaster
307th MDS returns from New York
U.S. Air Force Capt. Aaron Biggio, 307th Medical Squadron nurse, arrives at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, June 5, 2020. Biggio was one of several Reserve Citizen Airmen deployed to the city to aid in its battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle
Photo By: Master Sgt. Ted Daigle
VIRIN: 200605-F-YH293-1016

''I'd get back on the plane right now if they would let me,'' he said. ''There’s just something beautiful about the humanity of people coming together to fight through something so gruesome.''

Returning airmen are scheduled to be in quarantine for two weeks before being allowed to return to their military and civilian duties.

(Air Force Master Sgt. Theodore Daigle is assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing.)