Air Force medics continue deployments to civilian hospitals and care facilities

  • Published
  • By Shireen Bedi
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

While the nation is seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases, hospitals and other facilities across the country are still reeling.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, nearly 1,000 U.S. Air Force active duty, Reserve, and Air National Guard medics are serving in civilian hospitals, care facilities, and other public institutions. The Air Force Medical Service has continued to step up as part of the federal COVID-19 response, working alongside other military departments and federal agencies.

The Air Force has upwards of 24 active duty and Reserve teams currently deployed across the country, made up of pulmonologists, trauma nurses, respiratory therapist and medical technicians. Civilian medical facilities and other institutions in 34 states are also receiving support from ANG medics.

“As military medics, it is our duty to go where our nation calls us, and that means continuing our COVID-19 mission,” said Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Robert Miller. “We ask a lot of our medics, who have played an integral role in the joint fight against COVID-19, working across federal agencies, military departments and the entire health care system.”

One of the recent deployments included the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, a premier medical center that both Ohioans and the nation relies on for elite specialty medical care. Like other hospitals, COVID-19 surges have impacted the Cleveland Clinic staff.

“A lot of their staff have been stretched very thin taking care of these very sick COVID patients and it has also effected their ability to do their normal mission to take in transfers and specialty care from around Ohio,” said Maj. Peter Johnson, internal medicine physician assigned to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. “We are here in a variety of ways, as physicians, as nurses, and respiratory therapists.”

Dr. Chistopher Whinney, department chair for hospital medicine, and Maj. Peter Johnson, an internal medicine physician assigned to Joint Base Andrews, Md., discuss their experiences providing support to COVID response operations at Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, Jan. 20, 2022. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to the whole-of-government COVID response. (Video by U.S. Army Spc. Ashleigh Maxwell)

From JB Andrews, the Air Force sent a team of 20 medics to Cleveland in January to provide hospital augmentation support in the intensive care unit, emergency room and medical-surgical areas. Additionally, a 20-person team has been sent to Oklahoma and another 10-person team has been sent to Louisiana.

Joining the team from JB Andrews, Joint Base Langley-Eustis also sent a 10 medical personnel team to Louisiana.

From JB San Antonio-Lackland, three 20-person teams have been deployed to Pennsylvania, Maine and Connecticut.

Keesler Air Force Base has sent two teams, including a 15-person team to Pennsylvania, and a 20-person team to New York.

“We, in Air Education and Training Command, are extremely proud of the numerous teams of medics from all of our bases who have deployed forward conducting COVID-19 support operations in a variety of hospitals and areas throughout the country,” said Col. Michael J. Higgins, AETC command surgeon. “Taking care of our own people in this way is a sacred and honorable calling. Our lead medical centers from the 59th Medical Wing at JB San Antonio and the 81st Medical Group at Keesler AFB (Mississippi) shoulder an incredible responsibility. Our smaller medical groups volunteered their precious staff to augment these teams as well, a testament to their professionalism and sense of duty.”

Three medical teams from Nellis AFB, Nevada have been deployed to New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York.

The two 20-person teams deployed to New York are specifically providing support to the University of Rochester Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital where they have received training on the hospital’s systems and procedures and will integrate into the staff.

“Our team is excited to be here and help out during this time of need,” said Lt. Col. Allan Delgado, a Family and Aerospace Medicine nurse practitioner with the 99th Medical Group, Nellis AFB. “We’re proud and grateful to support FEMA and the great state of New York, serving alongside those who we swore to protect.”

Travis AFB, California deployed two 20-person teams, one to Connecticut and another to Louisiana. A 15-person team was also sent to California, specifically supporting the Emanate Health Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina.

“The hospital itself has been very welcoming and making the process very easy for us,” said 1st Lt. Katelyn Warren, 60th Medical Group physician assistant at Travis AFB. “So, our nurses, for example, are working with other nurses. They’re working the same schedules and they’re doing the same exact things that not only we’ve been trained to do, but also what is asked of them and needed here to help alleviate the strain that the hospital’s under.”

From Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, a 15-person team has been sent to Maine, a 20-person team to Oklahoma, and another 20-person team to Massachusetts.

“Our Airmen are always proud to serve, but there is something even more special to our team members in providing care to our nation’s citizens alongside our civilian medical partners,” said Col. Christian Lyons, 88th Medical Group commander, Wright-Patterson AFB. “Nothing is more inspiring than the military-civilian partnership being demonstrated right now to save lives.”

Eglin AFB, Florida has deployed a 20-person team to Maine, a 15-person team to Arizona and a 20-person team to Massachusetts.

“I am so proud of our Air Combat Command medics who demonstrate excellence daily by simultaneously providing COVID staffing relief to numerous civilian hospitals across the United States,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Bogart, ACC command surgeon. “At the same time, they have also found innovative ways to generate ready medics for the future fight and deliver timely, high-quality medical care to our Airmen and their families.”

Air Force Reserve medical personnel are also currently deployed to New York, consisting of two 20-person teams.

“I am just honored to support the effort with the COVID-19 operation in the U.S. in a hospital setting,” said Maj. Sanjiv M. Baxi, a physician activated from the 349th Medical Squadron at Travis AFB. “We are particularly trained to bring unique skill sets to help Americans on American soil, and it’s just a tremendous thing.”

These deployments in support of FEMA were approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Dec. 30, 2021.

“Air Force core values and our AFMS Trusted Care culture promotes competency and individual leadership within complex systems, which prepares our medics to enter an unfamiliar environment and quickly provide valuable professional skills and leadership,” said Col. James Sampson, Air Force Surgeon General chief surgical consultant. “In the long term, I expect that for many individuals the experience of working alongside our civilian and joint partners across the U.S. will result in even greater commitment to service. The lessons learned from this will enable greater agility and greater capabilities to meet the challenges of tomorrow.”

ANG medical personnel are currently deployed to 34 states, totaling nearly 500 doctors, nurses and other medical specialties deployed to long-term care and nursing homes, mobile blood drives, and COVID-19 vaccine administration facilities.

“This is a Total Force effort, and whether we are responding in our state or across the nation, we are wearing Air Force blue, and our participation in these missions assists the goals of the chief of staff of the Air Force and the Department of Defense,” said Maj. Gen. Brett A. Wyrick, ANG assistant to the Surgeon General. “Our participation assures the people of America that we are always ready and always there in time of need.”

While these are temporary deployments, there is also an impact to some military treatment facilities. As Air Force medics deploy, staff at military treatment facilities are working to ensure patients continue getting the care they need.

“The nation has leaned on our medics for the last two years and I cannot express my gratitude enough for their incredible dedication,” said Chief Master Sgt. Dawn Kolczynski, Medical Enlisted Force chief and Enlisted Corps chief. “Each time we ask you to respond to our nation’s need, you have stepped up with integrity and excellence in all you do.”

State / Number of U.S. Air Force Active Duty Medics
Pennsylvania / 35
New Hampshire /  15
California / 15
Maine / 55
Arizona / 15
Connecticut / 60
Oklahoma / 40
Louisiana / 40
New York / 40
Massachusetts / 40

State / Number of U.S. Air Force Reserve Medics
New York / 40

Number of States / Number of ANG Medics
34 / 489

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