Members of the Massachusetts National Guard are working alongside Army Reserve Soldiers at a public health hospital in Tewksbury, Mass. These service members are now stationed at the hospital to assist the staff and provide testing and treatment for patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
The 85-member Army Reserves Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force (UAMTF) 94-1 arrived at the hospital on Tuesday, April 21. Soldiers from the Mass. Army National Guard 272nd Chemical Company assigned to the Region 1 CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) Task Force provided a review training to the UAMTF on how to properly don and doff personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Before they entered the hospital and began augmenting the current civilian staff, the UAMTF wanted to learn some best practices when it came to doffing and decontaminating their PPE after leaving a COVID-19 positive environment,” said Army 1st Lt. Tyler Pobiedzinski, Region 1 CBRN Reconnaissance Platoon Leader. “We not only instructed military personnel but also all the civilian personnel who work in the hospital, stressing that this virus is a real and invisible threat.”
The demonstration overview included the proper use of gloves, suits, aprons, masks, face shields, hair caps, and boots.
“Not only did the instruction cover proper PPE donning and doffing, but also PPE care and preservation and the fundamentals of decontamination and working in a hazardous environment,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Wilson, Region 1 CBRN Task Force Operations NCO (non-commissioned officer).
In the history of Massachusetts, this is the first time that a large-scale, joint operation has been necessary. Collaboration and cooperation is key as the federal and state service members combine forces.
“It has been an amazing experience seeing Army, Air Force, Reserves, active duty, and guard members working together,” Wilson said.
In addition to the CBRN guard members providing training in Tewksbury, there are also Airmen from the Mass. Air National Guard assisting with public health, administrative work, and logistics. They are working at the Tewksbury Hospital to ensure that the joint forces, both Army and Air, are utilizing the appropriate PPE and to also work alongside other civilian counterparts here at the hospital.
“The National Guard has been wonderful,” said Army Capt. George Baker, the chief nursing officer for the UAMTF 94-1. “They’re helping us with every logistical issue. If we have any type of issue we just give them a call. However they’re figuring it out, they figure it out. We just tell them we need X, and it’s here. They’re doing a great job.”
Public Health and CBRN guard personnel along with the UAMTF are focused on taking preventative measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19, as well as preparing to assist the hospital with patient care.
“We’re here to help Massachusetts where the need is the highest,” Baker said.
In fighting an enemy we can’t see, the role of the UAMTF is to backfill the current hospital and support them so that they can continue their operations smoothly and efficiently, Baker said.
“I feel this mission is very important,” said Army Sgt. Nicole Walker, Region 1 CBRN Task Force Decon Element Operations NCO. “We are supporting the commonwealth through this pandemic, and helping ensure citizens can do their jobs safely without getting sick or unintentionally spreading the virus to their loved ones and community.”
Along with PPE training for the service members, a shared goal of the Mass. National Guard and the UAMTF is to make sure they’re working appropriately and effectively with their civilian counterparts.
Making sure that we have great relationships with the civilians is going to be a key part of the next steps in the operations,” said Air Force said Capt. Nate Horwitz-Willis, Force Health Protection Officer, Massachusetts National Guard Joint Force Surgeon. “We’re also going to make sure that people who are patients here at the hospital are going to get the proper care and treatment.”
The Joint Force Surgeon continues to ensure collaboration between Army and Air to deliver optimal care and prevention for our forces and civilians, as we work together to reduce and eliminate COVID-19 in Massachusetts.
“I think that this is going to demonstrate how we’re able to work together across the forces,” Horwitz-Willis said. “This is just the beginning of us having great relationships together and working collaboratively and effectively.”