Hundreds of Air Force Reserve medical specialists have been mobilzied to serve on the front lines of America’s battle against the COVID-19 coronavirus. Countless more have served behind the scenes to help the nation defeat this unseen enemy. Here are just a few of their stories.
EPLOs Involved in the Fight from the Beginning
As communities across the nation first started to grapple with the threat of COVID-19, one group of Air Force Reservists was already fully engaged in the fight against the deadly coronavirus.
Assigned to the 1st Air Force National Security Emergency Preparedness Directorate, Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers deployed across the nation to state emergency operations centers, Federal Emergency Management Agency regional offices, the National Response Coordination Center, Air Force bases and the Air Force Crisis Action Team cell at the Pentagon in the early days of the pandemic.
Some Reservists – like Col. Matthew Tondini – served on the frontlines as FEMA decided how and when to integrate Title 10 Air Force assets (active duty and reserve) into the fight.
Tondini worked 12- to 14-hour days at the New York Office of Emergency Management, maintaining visibility on all aspects of military response in the city, including the arrival of the Navy's Comfort hospital ship, the retrofit of the Javits Convention Center to care for thousands of patients and the need for mortuary affairs augmentation.
Known as EPLOs, Reservists like Tondini come from a variety of Air Force specialties to this special-duty assignment. During regular operations, EPLOs focus on building relationships within the disaster response enterprise, and informing key stakeholders about their role in the Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission and preparing for disasters.
When crisis hits, these relationships prove crucial.
“The commonality with all of the EPLO missions is proactive relationship building,” said Joe Sanders, NSEP deputy director. “Day-in and day-out, EPLOs are on the ground, building relationships, and training with their interagency partners and sister-service EPLOs before disaster strikes. These existing relationships are paying great dividends right now in the fight against COVID.”
Early on in the crisis, Col. Ralph Anthenien, the senior director to FEMA Region 3, deployed to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, where American evacuees from China’s Hubei province were quarantined in February. Over the course of several weeks, two groups of cruise ship evacuees arrived and remained in quarantine at the base. Anthenien orchestrated multi-agency support activities and directly supported the installation commander by assisting with Air Force issues that came up during the multi-agency response.
Meanwhile, almost 2,000 miles away, Col. John Trovato worked in a similar role at Travis AFB, Calfornia, when the base was selected as a quarantine area for American evacuees from Wuhan, China, and a Princess Cruise ship during February and March.
At Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., Col. Christiano Marchiori served as a liaison between the base and Air Forces Northern, keeping them apprised of developments associated with a group of evacuees from the Grand Princess Cruise ship who were quarantined at the base.
During the month of March, EPLOs also deployed to serve on the Air Force Crisis Action Team cell in the Pentagon. Col. Rob Mantz, Lt. Col. Karen Shelton-Mur and Lt. Col. Elizabeth Kelpis worked around the clock seven days a week, funneling information back and forth between the White House, the secretary of the Air Force, the chief of staff and other senior leaders.
Aircrews Deliver Medics to the Fight
As Reserve doctors, nurses and medical technicians from around the country reported for duty in and around New York City, it was often Reserve aircrews who delivered them to the country’s COVID-19 epicenter.
Within a few hours of notification, for example, an aircrew from the 452nd Air Mobility Wing, March Air Reserve Base, California, took to the skies in a C-17 Globemaster III to transport medical personnel to New York to help combat the coronavirus.
The crew departed April 5 with Air Force Reserve medics from the 940th Air Refueling Wing, Beale AFB, California, the 349th AMW, Travis AFB, California, and the 452nd AMW on board.
“It’s important to get our Reservists out the door quickly to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and take care of Americans,” said Brig. Gen. Stacey Scarisbrick, Air Force Reserve Command Force Generation Center commander.
On the same day the C-17 from March was transporting medics from the west coast, a C-130 crew from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, was gathering and delivering medics from the east coast.
“It took a huge effort to put this all together, not only from our medical personnel, but also from our aircrews, maintenance, logistics and many others” said Col. Craig McPike, 94th Airlift Wing commander. “The response I’ve seen is amazing. Service before self, happening right before my eyes.”
The flight started with four medical specialists from the 94th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Dobbins and one from the 413th ASTS at Robins AFB, Georgia.
After leaving Dobbins, the crew made stops at MacDill AFB, Florida, Patrick AFB, Florida, and Charleston AFB, South Carolina, to pick up more Reserve Citizen Airmen to join the fight.
“We’re here to take care of Americans, our Airmen and their loved ones, while we continue to maintain mission readiness and sustain vital operations here at Dobbins,” McPike said.
JAGs Help Marines Deploy on Short Notice
In early April, the Dobbins legal office helped more than 60 Marines with legal documents in preparation for a short-notice deployment to assist in the battle against COVID-19.
“It was asking a lot, but we really couldn’t say no,” said Lt. Col. Justin Swick, 94th Airlift Wing staff judge advocate. “If they’re going to go forward and put themselves in harm’s way to stem the pandemic, the least we could do is give them the tools they need before they leave.”
Preparing legal documents is a multi-step process that can be labor intensive, said Swick. First, the member fills out a worksheet with important information such as beneficiary designation and other details to be included in legal documents such as wills or powers of attorney. The legal team then drafts the document and brings the member back in for a consultation to review the document. Finally, the member signs the document in front of witnesses and gets it notarized.
Swick brought in Reservists to help with the workload. Additionally, Chief Master Sgt. Vicki Robertson, 94th AW command chief, helped out by registering Marines as they arrived.
Once signed in, the Marines headed into the wing conference room where seats were set up six feet apart. They sat at the table and began filling out their worksheets.
The scene was a bit surreal. It resembled any other pre-deployment processing line except for the fact that everyone in the room was wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The operation was successful, as the Marines were given peace of mind before heading out the door to complete their deployment.
“Hopefully these documents aren’t used in the near future, but it’s about peace of mind,” said Swick. “Whether they’re deploying to Afghanistan or New York City or California or wherever, you want them getting on the plane with the peace of mind that they’re taken care of and their families are taken care of; the only thing to worry about is the mission. So that’s why we do it.”
Freedom Wing Command Team Assists in Fighting Pandemic
Located just a few miles from New York City, the 514th Air Mobility Wing, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, has served as a hub of activity for Air Force Reserve COVID-19 support.
As Reserve medical specialists process through the New Jersey base on their way to serve in hard-hit areas in and around New York City, there is a command team at the Freedom Wing standing by to offer support.
Early in April, Col. Thomas Pemberton, 514th AMW commander, activated the 64th Air Expeditionary Group to serve and assist the Reserve healthcare providers.
The group is comprised of a commander, command chief and first sergeant all from the Freedom Wing. In addition, it has a three-member team for Personnel Support for Contingency Operations (PERSCO) from the 514th Force Support Squadron.
Col. Adrian R. Byers, 514th AMW vice commander, serves as the 64th AEG commander.
“Our Airmen never cease to amaze me,” Byers said. “We always talk about the fact we have 72 hours to answer a mobilization effort but in this case 125 Airmen were identified, mobilized and deployed inside 48 hours. Within 24 hours they were part of the fight against this dangerous virus. I’m humbled to be their commander, as they all clearly exude one of our most cherished core values – service before self.”
Chief Master Sgt. Len Werner, 64th AEG command chief, worked alongside Byers and two of the PERSCO members at JBMDL. He said he was amazed to see the quick response of receiving medical personnel in such a short time, some from as far away as Hawaii.
“All are accounted for in NYC and hit the ground running at three hospitals,” Werner said.
Senior Master Sgt. Michael B. Moody forward deployed in New York City at the Javits Center as the 64th AEG first sergeant. The Air Force Reservists quickly organized and were mobilized to the local hospitals based on their medical specialties. They built three cohesive teams working with the Navy, Army and New York City hospitals.
Moody has been in the Air Force for 24 years. He’s a maintainer by trade, and said he is impressed with how medical personnel speak their own language and are super supportive of each other. His goal as a first sergeant is to lift any burdens for them so they can focus on what they need to do.
Staff Sgt. Awa B. Diakhate, personnel specialist with the 514th FSS, was on the scene for PERSCO at the Javits Center. She found it amazing to be a part of such a large-scale operation in less than 24 hours after a unit training assembly. She is humbled to see how fast the Air Force Reserve came together in this joint operation in the biggest city in the United States.
“I’m having that feeling I had back in basic training, joining something bigger than me,” she said.
Reservists Nationwide Pitch in by Making Masks
Air Force Reservists from across the country have been helping out with the fight against COVID-19 in countless ways, including making masks for people to use when they can’t stay at home.
At Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, for example, Reservists from several 315th Airlift Wing units pitched in to help Joint Base Charleston’s 437th Operation Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment shop make masks from sheets donated by local hotels.
The Aircrew Flight Equipment Flight is always willing to assist when called upon for help, according to Lt. Col. Justin Warnaar, 437 OSS commander.
"Making masks is not in their normal repertoire, however, they do possess the skillset and capabilities," Warnaar said. "When asked by the wing commander if they could make masks, the immediate answer is of course…yes."
At Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, the 459th Operations Support Squadron’s Aircrew Flight Equipment team met its goal of crafting 1,000 Air Force-authorized face masks for aircrew members, maintainers and other members of the wing. #ReserveReady #ReserveResilient ■
(Editor's note: Col. Ann Knabe, Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman, 1st Lt. Alan Abernethy, Andrew Park, Lt. Col. Kimberly Lalley and Michael Dukes contributed to this story.)