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NEWS | Feb. 23, 2022

Pennsylvania Guard members pitch in during pandemic

By Brad Rhen, Joint Force Headquarters - Pennsylvania National Guard

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – It’s been nearly two years since the Pennsylvania National Guard began supporting COVID-19 medical missions.

During that time, Pennsylvania National Guard members have helped at vaccination clinics, COVID testing sites and long-term care facilities dealing with staff shortages. They also assisted with contact tracing.

The long-term care facility mission, which is ongoing, began in April 2020. Since then, Pennsylvania National Guard members have conducted about 140 staffing support missions and provided some form of assistance to more than 130 long-term care facilities. In all, PNG service members have worked more than 14,500 shifts.

Approximately 350 Soldiers and Airmen participated in the vaccination mission, which ran from March 11 to June 29, 2021. They administered 81,571 vaccine doses to commonwealth residents and supported sites that administered 566,163 doses.

Here’s a look at a few of the Pennsylvania National Guard members who have been supporting COVID medical missions for an extended period.

Spc. Han Thach

A medic with the Pennsylvania National Guard Joint Force Headquarters Medical Detachment from Philadelphia, Thach has been on orders since December 2020. Before that, Thach earned a biology degree at Drexel University. She has put off looking for a full-time job while supporting COVID-19 medical missions.

Thach has worked in long-term care facilities doing medical and general-purpose tasks, at vaccination and COVID-19 testing sites.

“It’s definitely not what I expected when I enlisted as a medic, but it’s been interesting,” she said. “I feel like it’s a different level of care based on what we were trained to do as combat medics. It definitely required a lot of people skills and social skills speaking with the residents, the nurses, the other staff. It’s been a great experience.”

Thach said she and her fellow service members have received a lot of gratitude from residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

“That’s probably the most rewarding part of these missions, knowing that we’re making a difference for somebody,” she said.

Spc. Matt Zechman

Zechman, a medic with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, from Cleona, has been on orders since March 2021. Before that, he worked as an EMT. He also owns and operates a coffee-roasting business part-time.

Zechman has assisted at vaccination clinics, did contact tracing for the Pennsylvania Department of Health and helped out at long-term care facilities. Zechman is in charge of managing training certificates for the service members on the LTCF missions.

Zechman said his first mission was at a vaccination clinic where he  administered more than 1,500 vaccines.

“Honestly, it was the best time I ever had in the Army by far,” he said.

Zechman said the LTCF mission has had the most impact on him because he’s gotten to know some of the residents.

“I’ve met some incredible residents,” he said. “I was doing Walmart runs for them to get them things they needed, and I actually have a pen pal now from one of the missions I was on. I’ve been writing her back and forth. Being able to meet some people and leaving there knowing that we absolutely made a difference has been great.”

Spc. Nadiah Sims

An ammunition specialist with the Fort Indiantown Gap Training Center from East Stroudsburg, Sims has been on orders since March 2020, conducting general-purpose tasks. Before going on orders, Sims worked as a baker.

Initially, Sims worked at Fort Indiantown Gap doing administrative tasks. Beginning in January 2021, she started working in long-term care facilities. She also worked at COVID-19 testing sites, assisted at vaccinations sites, and worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Health doing contact tracing.

“I’ve been a home health aide, so going out to these nursing homes is not a challenge for me,” she said. “Although it’s unfortunate circumstances, it’s a good experience for me because my unit is non-deployable, so I don’t really get to do much. Now I’m working with other units, other branches and civilians, so it’s been a learning experience for me.”

The most rewarding part of these missions, Sims said, has been being able to help others.

“I feel that’s what pushed me to continue,” she said. “People need help, and that’s what I’m here to do.”

Spc. Bryan Raber

Raber, a construction equipment repairer with the Fort Indiantown Gap Training Center from McSherrystown, has been on orders since March 2020 in a general-purpose role. Previously, Raber worked full-time in the maintenance department at a wire-mesh company.

Initially, Raber worked at Fort Indiantown Gap, screening employees and assisting with isolation facilities. He has also assisted at long-term care facilities.

“Guidance and best practices have constantly changed throughout this whole thing, but it’s been rewarding,” he said. “It’s interesting to see how we’re actually giving back to the commonwealth now aside from going to normal drill weekends and working at the Gap. The reason why we enlist is to serve our state.”

Raber, who is married with children, said it’s been difficult being away from his family while out on certain missions.

“We’re away from home for a week or two at a time, and then when we come back home, as the numbers have trended upwards, our time at home has decreased, so we get a few days rest, then we’re back out on the next mission,” he said. “So that’s been difficult to adjust to, but it’s better than going on a deployment and being gone for months at a time instead.”



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