Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard medics train for COVID-19 response

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Brian Schroeder
  • Oklahoma National Guard

Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard medics joined forces in COVID-19 medical response training at the Oklahoma Regional Training Institute April 10 -11. The training was aimed to prepare OKNG medical personnel for potential missions with their civilian counterparts in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 across the state.

Members of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 63rd Civil Support Team, 137th Special Operations Wing and 138th Fighter Wing, as well as representatives from the Oklahoma City-County Health Department and University of Oklahoma Medical Center, gave practical knowledge, training and instruction to the Oklahoma National Guard medics from their experiences working the front lines of the COVID-19 response. Each medic was also fitted for a N95 medical mask.

Lynnda Parker, site supervisor with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, briefed the OKNG medics about current operational procedures at the COVID-19 test-collection site she manages, which has seen 223 patients in one day. Despite the high number of patients, Parker said her site is running efficiently, with support from the Oklahoma City Police Department. In the event the OKNG is called for a State Active Duty (SAD) mission, she said the Soldiers and Airmen could be used for assisting in traffic flow, checking in patients, swabbing patients and preparing lab tests for those who come through the site.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to work with the Guard,” Parker said. “Coming together as a community strengthens us and it shows solidarity and unity across the community. We are in public health and we are serving the public. The Guard [also] serves the public. Both of us coming together shows the community that we are unified.”

The Soldiers and Airmen trained on how to properly don and decontaminate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), triage and site screening protocols, nasopharyngeal swabbing techniques and advanced airway and ventilator familiarization.

Staff Sgt. Julia Rusert, a medic with the Oklahoma Medical Detachment, Oklahoma Army National Guard, said she was thankful for the presentations by experts currently in the field, but the most beneficial part of the training was getting hands-on experience with the equipment.

“I have never interacted with this type of protective gown,” Russert said. “It is one thing to watch somebody do it, but it’s a whole other thing to do it yourself because it instills muscle memory.”

Russert said if the OKNG is called for a SAD mission, the training will help familiarize the medics with multiple tasks they could be performing to assist with current response efforts.

“This training allows us to be both flexible and responsive in whatever we have to do,” Russert said. “You have to remember that every place is going to have their own protocol and procedures. This type of familiarization training gives us the tools we need to [be flexible]."

This is also an opportunity for Oklahoma Soldiers and Airmen to work alongside one another. Although Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard medics do not typically conduct joint training, known as a “purple event,” the Soldiers and Airmen in attendance were excited to work with their purple partners.

Senior Airman Jessica Brinegar, aeromedical medical evacuation technician, 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, said all of the medics in attendance, regardless of military branch, are excited to have the opportunity to learn new medical techniques and possible use those techniques to come to the aid of their fellow Oklahomans.

“It’s interesting to see how we do things similarly and a lot of the things we do differently,” Brinegar said. “Being the Citizen Airman [or Citizen Soldier], I think it is important for us to be ready and willing to help. It is definitely encouraging to see and work with our counterparts in that respect.”