By Tech. Sgt. Kyle King, 439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 27, 2020
U.S. Air Force reservists from the 439th Aeromedical Staging Squadron and 439th Aerospace Medical Squadron pose for a group photo at Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts on April 6, 2020. The group of doctors, nurses and medical technicians were activated to help fight against COVID-19 in New York City. (Courtesy photo)
Westover mobilized medical personnel from the 439th Aeromedical Staging Squadron and 439th Aerospace Medical Squadron to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. on April 5.
More than 10 Airmen were activated in response to the Air Force Reserve Command’s call to mobilize doctors, nurses and medical technicians in support of the fight against COVID-19 in New York City.
AFRC worked directly with unit commanders to identify members for activation. The Airmen were screened to ensure minimal impact on the medical work they provide in their civilian communities.
“I received the official notification on Saturday morning with the intention of being there by early Sunday morning, the next day ready to deploy with our unit,” Col. Harlan South, chief of Aerospace Medicine, 439th AMDS, said. “This was literally overnight.”
As part of the activation, members processed through Westover’s Installation Deployment Readiness Cell.
“Members were notified to be there the following day and they came ready to go,” said Maj. Kimberly Askew, 439th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander. “They went through a normal deployment out processing. Typically, when it’s this fast of a turnaround it’s in response to a natural disaster, but this was unlike anything that we’ve dealt with before.”
Capt. Chelsie Hatfield, 439th AMDS clinical nurse, said this wasn’t what she thought her first deployment in the Air Force would be like.
“It's a different kind of crisis,” Hatfield said. “But, it's exactly what we're meant for as healthcare providers. Readiness is part of our duty and part of our responsibility as Reservists. We got the call and we were ready.”
“I’m honored to command and serve alongside our Citizen Airmen professionals who selflessly run into harm’s way to save lives every day,” said Col. Craig Peters, 439th AW commander.
The group departed Westover Sunday, April 6, and headed to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., where they in-processed before heading into the city.
The next day they bussed to New York City’s Javits Center, a convention center that has been transformed into a temporary medical station to house COVID-19 patients and relieve the burden on local hospitals, to receive pandemic specific training before arriving at Queens Hospital.
“Whatever your official duty is within the Reserve [or civilian job], whether a primary nurse, or an ICU doctor, or in my case, I'm a chief flight doctor, we are trying to work in the areas we have the most experience in,” South said.
“The situation is very intense at the hospital,” he said. “The level of medical work is very intense and involves complicated medical decisions. We're trying to fight an enemy that no real bullet can kill.”
Hatfield shared similar sentiments.
“I think the hardest part for me so far, is seeing some of the medical staff and how burnt out they are,” she said. “They've been doing this for several weeks before we got here.”
Air Force Reserve Command has mobilized more than 770 members nationwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.