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NEWS | May 29, 2020

National Guard members share test results in many languages

By 1st Lt. Meghan Skrepenski Wisconsin National Guard

MADISON, Wis. – The National Guard is made up of people from different backgrounds with varied skills gained inside and outside their military careers are often brought to enhance the fight.

The Wisconsin National Guard’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen at a state call center are using their diverse backgrounds and language skills to translate coronavirus test results to residents.

Staffing the call center 10 hours a day, seven days a week, the 30 Soldiers and Airmen communicate with hundreds of community members who are anxiously awaiting test results. Among the Guard members are 16 interpreters available to translate in English, Spanish, Hmong, Portuguese, French, Mandarin Chinese and German.

“If we only had English speaking personnel here, you wouldn’t be able to efficiently convey the message or let people know the information they needed to safely quarantine,” said Pfc. Daniel Rivera Nazario, a specialist with the Headquarters Company, 732nd Combat Support Sustainment Battalion.

Spc. Cameron Spencer, of the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment, agreed.

“If not all of us are practicing the safety precautions we are suggesting due to a language barrier, it just takes that one person to keep it spreading, and that’s exactly what we’re fighting against,” said Spencer, a Mandarin Chinese interpreter. “Especially knowing how diverse we are in America, it’s important we have interpreters here at this call center because we have one message to send out and one fight going on, but multiple people speaking different languages.”

The language skills benefit service members and the National Guard, as the ability to speak another language fluently can positively impact federal and state missions, including the call center mission.

Members of the Wisconsin National Guard have been working alongside the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to provide call center support since their mission began April 22.

After specimens are collected at mobile testing sites, health departments receive results from labs and local health departments begin notifying individuals. In many cases, health officials shift some of that work to the National Guard call center.

“On average the call center is making or answering 1,600 calls per day,” said Capt. Kelly Seniuk, the Wisconsin National Guard’s Task Force Medical call center officer in charge. “The call center volumes reflect the specimen collection sites, so if there are a lot of sites open at once, there are more test results to convey. The call center’s calls range anywhere from 500 calls to 5,400 calls in a single day.”

Results typically take three to seven days to arrive after testing, sometimes longer. As of May 28, the state had collected more than 77,000 specimens.

The Soldiers and Airmen comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, ensuring each patient’s personal medical information stays protected.

“This is different from the typical opportunities we have to support the military and our state,” said Spc. Luke Herr, a motor transport operator. “I am privileged to be able to speak another language, and being able to serve my county by translating and to give back is a great opportunity.”

Spc. Erick Carranza, a transportation specialist from the Green Bay area, said it makes him feel good to be able to translate to ensure the state is reaching those who need it in all areas of the state, not just specific targeted areas.

“Being part of this mission for me is being part of the front lines, to help society gain peace of mind for the epidemic that is going on at this moment,” he said. “Helping translate I know plays a big part because I know we have a large Hispanic community in the state of Wisconsin.”

Seniuk said she’s been a Wisconsin resident for most of her life, but this is her first state emergency mission, and it’s been an honor to help with such a broad mission that reaches across the state.

“I’ve been able to hop on the phone and make some calls myself, which reinforced the importance of the call center mission,” she said. “From the elderly residents to concerned parents and all the other ages in-between, it’s been a truly rewarding experience.”

The call center mission is one of many 1,400 members of the Wisconsin National Guard are conducting in support of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – part of a nationwide force of 46,000 National Guard troops on the front lines of the fight.



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