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Westover medical personnel return from COVID-19 front line

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 AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. --

As the coronavirus pandemic swept through the United States in March, more than 10 Westover 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.

The men and women from the 439th Aeromedical Staging Squadron and 439th Aerospace Medical Squadron answered the call to help assist medical staff in New York City. 

The team of nurses and doctors were mobilized to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey on April 5 and returned to Westover on May 28.

U.S. Air Force Col. Harlan South, 439th AMDS chief of Aerospace Medicine, was stationed at Queens Medical Center in the medicine ward to treat patients who were coming from both the ICU and the emergency room. 

“They had a huge number of COVID positive patients who needed intensive care,” said South. “It was a very critical medical situation because it was overwhelming trying to treat and co-manage patients.” 

He said the most challenging part was trying to treat the range of symptoms that COVID-19 positive patients can have. 

“Overall, the intensity of care for the patients was very complex,” said South. “We were working 12-hour days and sometimes longer.” 

He said the opportunity was challenging but rewarding.  

“I’m grateful and fortunate to have been able to be part of this unique experience to help the New York healthcare system get on its feet again,” he said. “Everyone played a critical part in making the mission a success.” 

U.S. Air Force Capt. Chelsie Hatfield, 439th AMDS clinical nurse, also expressed her gratitude for her fellow Airmen. 

Hatfield deployed to Queens Medical Center’s ICU unit. 

“It was a huge learning curve,” said Hatfield. “You definitely learn to rely a lot on your team.” 

She said that teamwork was the most critical aspect of performing the job.

“I am not a critical care nurse but some of the other Airman I worked with are, so I had to rely on them a bit,” said Hatfield. “We had to really work as a team to gather information and organize ourselves and keep each other grounded.” 

Major Mandy Ritter, 439th AMDS clinical nurse, said she will never forget the words spoken to her on the first day by one of the medical center’s administrators. 

“He just looked at me and said, ‘we need your help, we are so happy that you are here’ and I knew from that point on how critical our work was there,” Ritter said.

She said her biggest takeaway was the gratefulness the hospital staff at Queens Medical Center showed towards her. 

“I will never forget the genuine and authentic thankfulness the hospital showed towards us,” she said.  “The nursing staff there was incredibly open to questions and was very helpful towards each of us.” 

Air Force Reserve Command has mobilized more than 770 members nationwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.