BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Vermont Air National Guard undertook a new mission early this year, assembling COVID-19 test kits for the Vermont Department of Health and distributing them to VDH district offices, pop-up test sites and primary care physicians across the state.
On July 20, seven Airmen began the task of assembling enough COVID-19 test kits to keep up with Vermont’s daily testing demand and to amass a reserve of at least 20,000 kits.
“This operation has afforded me the opportunity to take an active role in ensuring the safety of my fellow Vermonters, as well as develop new skill sets I wouldn’t otherwise gain in my normal work environment,” said Staff Sgt. Mike Grupp, from the 158th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
By the end of the first week, Airmen had produced nearly 8,000 kit bags, including absorbents, saline vials, nasal swabs, health forms and patient instructions. As the operation grew, more Airmen volunteered to help complete the mission.
“As warehouse functions evolved, it was a challenge to choose the right individuals to lead the various roles of inventory, distribution, kit-assembly and so on,” said Master Sgt. Karl Johansen, the 158th Medical Group first sergeant and the warehouse manager. “The fact that this team is composed of diverse AFSCs (Air Force career specialties), skill sets, ranks and experiences made those decisions easier.”
Several weeks later, Soldiers from the Vermont Army National Guard state food distribution mission joined the VTANG test-kit team. Working together as one unit, the warehouse was renamed the COVID War House.
“We know that the world is going through a very difficult time with this pandemic,” said Staff Sgt. Dhruv Gulati, of the 158th Maintenance Squadron. “As a member of the VTANG, I was given the opportunity to be a part of this team. I am honored to be part of the collective effort with the state, the VTANG and the VTARNG to fight this pandemic.”
On Sept. 18, just 60 days after the launch of the warehouse, the team assembled its 50,000th test kit.
”A lot of this team’s success can be attributed to its diversity,” said Johansen. “Members volunteered from across many career fields and Air Force specialties; each brought different skill sets and experiences to the effort.”