Boston University Student and Army Reserve Soldier participates in NYC COVID-19 response

Cadet Owen Kearney, an Army Reserve Cadet, pauses for a photo on his final day of service at the Javits Convention Center in New York City May 28. Kearney is serving with an Army Reserve Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force and one of more than 1200 Army Reserve Soldiers serving in medical units that have mobilized as part of the Department of Defense response to COVID-19. (Army Reserve Medical Command/Released)
June 04, 2020

While many college students adapted to completing their spring semester virtually, one Boston University undergraduate found himself in the epi-center of the response efforts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spc. Owen Kearney, an Army Reserve Soldier and BU political science major was in a virtual class when he received the call to report with his unit for mobilization.

“I was actually on a Zoom class when my unit contacted me it was going to happen,” shared Kearney. “I was notified on March 26th that we were to report at Devens on the 28th.”

Kearney is a member of the 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support), 803rd Hospital Center, located in Devens, Massachusetts. He is one of more than 1,200 Army Reserve medical professionals that have mobilized in Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces as part of the Department of Defense response to COVID-19, which is being led by U.S. Northern Command. Specifically created to respond in this time of crisis, UAMTFs augment the civilian medical community by delivering a wide range of critical medical capabilities. Each 85-person UAMTF consists of doctors, nurses, combat medics, respiratory therapists, and ancillary personnel.

A Human Resource specialist, Kearney’s responsibilities include assuring all personnel and accounting requirements were completed for the team, starting at their home station.

“I helped to in-process over 500 Soldiers for the 804th making sure their deployment status was green, then I was transferred to Task Force 1, where I took control of daily personnel status functions, and worked with every individual Soldier as well as the command team on a daily basis,” explained Kearney.

Kearney was assigned to a task force that mobilized first to the temporary field hospital set up in the Javits Convention Center in New York City, that later relocated to augment staff at Queens Hospital.

“Our mission at Queens was to provide care for COVID patients to help ease the burden on the civilian hospital system,” explained Kearney. “They were under staffed, as some healthcare workers had contracted the virus.”

“I also cross trained with our supply noncommissioned officer in charge. That way he was able to ensure our task force was properly equipped to fight the virus by working with members of other service branches and civilians,” continued Kearney. “This made a profound impact on my understanding of large scale operations.”

Kearney shared that he joined the Army because serving others has always been important to him.

“I volunteer my time coaching high school lacrosse, as well as youth flag football because helping others fulfill their full potential has always brought me joy,” explained Kearney. “The transition into Army life was easy to me as a 42A because I take care of Soldiers with the same understanding and compassion.”

In joining the Army Reserve, Kearney is continuing a history of service in his family. Both of his late grandfathers served, as well as two uncles.

“This history of service has greatly worked to my advantage as they have both continually mentored me throughout my career,” said Kearney. “My family has shown me nothing but unconditional love and support.”

A native of Abington, Massachusetts, Kearney explained “I specifically chose the Reserve because I wanted to serve my country but still have the opportunity to simultaneously earn my degree at Boston University.”

“Growing up in the South Shore, I always knew Boston University was the place for me. My father and I would stay up late at night to watch the BU hockey games. When I visited the school for the first time, I saw the way the Charles River flows behind the campus and I fell in love. It’s a tremendous school.”

“I chose to study political science, because we live in a very politically charged environment; healthcare, equality, and climate change are all polarizing issues. Americans need members of our government to work together and make sure we continue to make this country better,” stated Kearney. “As a political science major, I see myself one day helping to achieve these goals for our nation.”

When asked how he managed his academic studies with the sudden call to duty, Kearney recounted, “It was tough staying up late hours to complete some deadlines, especially finals week, but teachers were really flexible. There were other college students in my UAMTF and we had study groups.” He added, “I’ve received nothing but support from all my teachers and Cadre throughout my time here.”

Kearney’s mention of cadre, references his professors of military science at Boston University. In addition to studying political science, Kearney is a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. As a 2nd year military science student, he became eligible while mobilized to formally commit to continue his path toward earning a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant.

“I think I’ve gained a great amount of experience throughout my civilian life and Army career. The next step for me is to put myself in a position to share my experience with others and make a positive impact on Soldiers. As an officer, I have the best opportunity to achieve these goals and continue to progress as a leader.”

Kearney signed his official ROTC contract on May 6th and participated in a virtual ceremony from his mobilization site in New York via video chat. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Johnathan Woodson, Commanding General of the Army Reserve Medical Command.

Like Kearney, Woodson is a Citizen Soldier. In his civilian capacity, Dr. Woodson, leads Boston University’s Institute for Health System Innovation and Policy. He is a Larz Anderson Professor in Management and Professor of the Practice at the Questrom School of Business and holds joint appointments as Professor of Surgery at the School of Medicine and Professor of Health Law, Policy, and Management at the School of Public Health.

“It is always an honor to participate in ceremonies that recognize the advancement of Soldiers,” stated Woodson. “These are time honored traditions that we cannot let fall by the way side because of mission.”

“Cadet Kearney has a bright future ahead of him,” continued Woodson. “He has already participated in one the single largest domestic mobilizations of the military in American History and experienced how the Department of Defense can support civil authorities when called upon. This knowledge provides a strong platform of confidence and compassion required today for our nation’s military leaders.”

Kearney summarized his mobilization experience by sharing, “Overall, this was a great learning experience. I was able to work with the command team to really understand how the Army operates while activated. Many officers and enlisted soldiers here have served as great examples for me to carry forward in my Army career.”

“To all the soldiers that worked in my unit, along with the civilian workers at Queens, I greatly appreciate your courage in such a difficult time,” said Kearney. “All of these medical workers have families of their own back home. To be distant from them while working in such an unprecedented time speaks volumes to their professionalism and commitment to their duties.”

As the Queen’s medical system sees fewer COVID-19 infected patients, Kearney’s task force returns back to their home station, but his mission is not yet complete.

“Currently we are in the demobilization process,” he shared. “The long hours we’ve put in to get all our Soldiers home safely, make sure they receive appropriate awards, and fix any outstanding pay functions, has taught me a large sense of responsibility.”

Cadet Kearney summarized the mission. “I believe we helped to ease suffering; and the impact we made in such a short time has shown me how important it is to have Soldiers readily available for times of crisis.”