TEWKSBURY, Mass. – The Massachusetts National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers are helping staff a public hospital, testing and treating patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
The 85-member Army Reserves Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force (UAMTF) 94-1 arrived at the hospital April 21. Soldiers from the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 272nd Chemical Company assigned to the Region 1 CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) Task Force reviewed for the UAMTF how to use personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Before they entered the hospital and began augmenting the current civilian staff, the UAMTF wanted to learn some best practices when it came to doffing and decontaminating their PPE after leaving a COVID-19 positive environment,” said Army 1st Lt. Tyler Pobiedzinski, Region 1 CBRN reconnaissance platoon leader. “We not only instructed military personnel but also all the civilian personnel who work in the hospital, stressing that this virus is a real and invisible threat.”
The demonstration included the proper use of gloves, suits, aprons, masks, face shields, hair caps and boots.
“Not only did the instruction cover proper PPE donning and doffing, but also PPE care and preservation and the fundamentals of decontamination and working in a hazardous environment,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Wilson, Region 1 CBRN Task Force Operations NCO (noncommissioned officer).
In the history of Massachusetts, this is the first time a large-scale, joint operation has been necessary. Collaboration and cooperation is key as the federal and state service members combine forces.
“It has been an amazing experience seeing Army, Air Force, Reserves, Active Duty, and Guard members working together,” Wilson said.
In addition to the CBRN Guard members providing training in Tewksbury, there are also Airmen from the Massachusetts Air National Guard assisting with public health, administrative work and logistics. They are working at Tewksbury Hospital to ensure that the joint forces, both Army and Air, are utilizing the appropriate PPE and to also work alongside other civilian counterparts at the hospital.
“The National Guard has been wonderful,” said Army Capt. George Baker, the chief nursing officer for the UAMTF 94-1. “They’re helping us with every logistical issue. If we have any type of issue, we just give them a call. However they’re figuring it out, they figure it out. We just tell them we need X, and it’s here. They’re doing a great job.”
Public health and CBRN Guard personnel and the UAMTF are focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19 and assisting the hospital with patient care.
“We’re here to help Massachusetts where the need is the highest,” Baker said.
“In fighting an enemy we can’t see, the role of the UAMTF is to backfill the current hospital and support them so that they can continue their operations smoothly and efficiently,” Baker said.
“I feel this mission is very important,” said Army Sgt. Nicole Walker, Region 1 CBRN Task Force Decon Element Operations NCO. “We are supporting the commonwealth through this pandemic, and helping ensure citizens can do their jobs safely without getting sick or unintentionally spreading the virus to their loved ones and community.”
Along with PPE training for service members, a shared goal of the Massachusetts National Guard and the UAMTF is to work effectively with their civilian counterparts.
“Making sure that we have great relationships with the civilians is going to be a key part of the next steps in the operations,” said Air Force Capt. Nate Horwitz-Willis, force health protection officer, Massachusetts National Guard joint force surgeon. “We’re also going to make sure that people who are patients here at the hospital are going to get the proper care and treatment.
“I think that this is going to demonstrate how we’re able to work together across the forces,” Horwitz-Willis said. “This is just the beginning of us having great relationships together and working collaboratively and effectively.”