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    Pa. Guard members recount COVID medical missions

    Pa. National Guard concludes teacher vaccination mission

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler | Spc. Han Thach, left, a combat medic with the Pennsylvania National Guard, administers...... read more read more



    Story 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.

    Among the missions Pennsylvania National Guard members have supported are: COVID testing sites, long-term care facilities dealing with staff shortages, vaccination clinics and 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, 2021, to June 29, 2021. They administered 81,571 vaccine doses to commonwealth residents and supported sites that administered 566,163 doses overall.

    Several Pa. Guard members participated in voluntary COVID mapping operations in support of the Pennsylvania Department of Health between July 2020 and August 2021. They contacted people who tested positive for COVID-19 and guided them through quarantine protocols, while collecting voluntarily-provided data. In total, Pa. Guard members provided over 7,566 hours during 106 days of voluntary COVID mapping support.

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

    Spc. Han Thach

    A medic with the Pennsylvania National Guard Joint Force Headquarters Medical Detachment from Philadelphia, Spc. Han Thach has been on orders since December 2020. Prior to going on orders, Thach was a full-time student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she has earned a degree in biology. She has put off looking for a full-time job while supporting COVID-19 medical missions.

    During her time on orders, Thach has worked in long-term care facilities doing both medical and general-purpose tasks, at vaccination sites and at 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 the residents and staffs at the LTCFs.

    “That’s probably the most rewarding part of these missions, knowing that we’re making a difference for somebody,” she said. “There’s only been a couple missions that felt overwhelming, but that’s due to facility being super-understaffed and us not having enough help. But for the most part, there’s only been a handful of missions that were overwhelming.”

    There have been some challenges during the LTCF mission, Thach said.

    “There was one mission where I was assigned to a COVID unit and there was one other aid and it was just me and her for about 15 to 20 residents who were pretty dependent on us,” she said. “Sometimes we barely had time to sit down and relax or grab a bite to eat.”

    Spc. Matt Zechman

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

    While on orders he has assisted at vaccination clinics, did contact tracing for the Pennsylvania Department of Health and assisted at long-term care facilities. Currently, 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, and he personally administered over 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.”

    The LTCF mission was somewhat difficult because, Zechman said, because he’s not a trained nurse or nursing assistant.

    “So it’s challenging when we go somewhere and they’re expecting us to just dig our hands in right away and basically be another one of them,” he said. “It takes a lot of versatility to go place to place and learn new residents. Every place is different, and their operating procedures are different.”

    Spc. Nadiah Sims

    An ammunition specialist with the Fort Indiantown Gap Training Center from East Stroudsburg, Pa., Spc. Nadiah 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, and 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.”

    Having experience as a home health aid was beneficial when she started working at long-term care facilities, Sims said.

    “I didn’t go into these missions blind to certain medical terminology and how to take care of patients and what not,” she said. “And it’s easy for me to go through any training, like temporary nurse aid training, that we have to do.”

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

    “I fell that’s what pushed me to continue,” she said. “People need help and that’s what I’m here to do. It needs to be done.

    Spc. Bryan Raber

    Spc. Bryan Raber, a construction equipment repairer with the Fort Indiantown Gap Training Center from McSherrystown, Pa., has been on orders since March 2020 in a general-purpose role. Prior to going on orders, 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.

    The missions have been challenging, he said, because it has been a rapidly evolving situation.

    “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.”

    Overall, Raber said, the missions have been rewarding and learning experiences.

    “It’s been fun – not fun, given the circumstances – but it’s been a fun change to my career,” he said.



    Date Taken: 02.23.2022
    Date Posted: 02.23.2022 11:17
    Story ID: 415111
    Hometown: CLEONA, PA, US
    Hometown: PHILADELPHIA, PA, US

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