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    Oregon National Guard women supporting COVID Hospital Mission draw on a foundation of persistence and resilience

    Oregon National Guard women supporting COVID Hospital Mission draw on a foundation of persistence and resilience

    Photo By John Hughel | Oregon Army National Guard Specialist Stacia Coleman, a member of Bravo Company, 741...... read more read more



    Story by John Hughel 

    Oregon National Guard Public Affairs Office

    PORTLAND, Ore. – Tucked away in the Eliot neighborhood of North Portland, Legacy Emanuel Hospital is a level-one trauma center and has been a cornerstone of public health in the community for over 100 years. Long before Oregon Army National Guard Specialist Stacia Coleman, currently a member of Bravo Company, 741st Brigade Engineer Battalion, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team was assigned here in mid-January to provide COVID-19 medical support; it was a place she was sensitively familiar with too.

    Growing up in the foster care system, Coleman had become peculiarly acquainted with the hospital chapel, often serving as a reliable waiting room during her frequent visits. “I spent a great deal of time here when I was growing up, mostly because the people in my life didn’t take proper care of their health and made horrible decisions, and it always ended up leading to this specific hospital -- I spent a lot of time in the Chapel growing up,” she said, retracing her childhood journey to her current assignment. “I never would have imagined being here now working in this capacity.”

    The turbulence of growing up in foster care has made her acutely aware of the variety of patients' medical needs during the surge in the Omicron Variant. Empathy, understanding, and support are essential traits she said, especially in emergency care situations.

    “I feel a little bit more of a connection to people here, especially in the emergency room or people with drug and dependency issues because oddly, I grew up with that as my role models,” she said. “I feel like I have a little extra compassion now for patients and families who are in distress.”

    Prior to being assigned on COVID-19 hospital orders, Coleman had completed a coding and medical office certification. “It was a coincidence -- which they ended up putting me in the medical office to work with insurance and paperwork, which I have done before,” she said, explaining that the office combined military members and civilian health care specialists.

    This current mobilization of Oregon National Guard members is similar to the mission that began in August of 2021 and was completed by the end of the year. With this activation starting on Jan. 12, 2022, the Oregon National Guard activated more than 1,200 soldiers and airmen working in non-clinical support roles at 41 hospitals across Oregon. Although Coleman was working in administration, others service members had jobs working in janitorial services, supply management, transportation, and coronavirus symptom screening.

    Like many of the Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen who were part of Joint Task Force Reassurance, they put their civilian jobs and plans on hold again to support pandemic-related hospital support. For Coleman, the past three years have been a variety of stops and starts.

    “I originally joined the [National] Guard for the college education benefits and had planned on becoming a nurse, but I found out on my first drill that I was deploying so I was derailed for a while,” she said, explaining her pursuit of education and training goals. “When I get home from Kuwait in 2020, Covid was here so I started looking at other options and decided to go into the trades.”

    Her combat engineer training fostered a new interest, discovering a “knack for building and fixing things,” she said, deciding to enroll in a pre-apprenticeship program with Oregon Tradeswomen, an organization designed specifically for women who want to work in the skilled labor trades.

    “Between school, deployments, and now Covid-19 support, I was able to get one of the 12 slots for this program,” she said, noting that 75 other women had applied for the program and her military training helped secure one of the slots. “The Army has given me some much-needed structure in my life, and since my time in the Army, I’ve found that I thrived by working in the construction and transportation aspects of my military career.”

    It’s notable that during Women’s History Month, women who serve in uniform are leading and taking responsibility for their career goals, all the while, making an impact on the world. During the past two years of COVID-19 tasks, women service members have played significant leadership roles, especially with the vaccination and hospital support missions.

    Over the past five years, Senior Master Sgt. Rebecca Marie Pittock Thompson, a member of the 142nd Wing Maintenance Operations Group, has been on the front lines of multiple domestic operations in the state, deploying twice to support Wildland firefighting efforts, and working at coronavirus vaccination sites and finally with hospital assistance.

    “This is my fifth joint; Army and Air, community support mission since 2017,” she said, describing both her current tasking and past regional area assignments. “This is my second time to work the hospital support mission as the NCOIC (Non-commissioned Officer-in-charge) of the National Guard team here at OHSU (Oregon Health and Sciences University). Going back to September of 2017, I was a fire-team leader for a 23-member crew on the Horse Prairie Fire outside of Riddle, Oregon, and then again in 2020, supporting traffic control points as the Joint Staff NCOIC for the Almedia and South Obenchain Fire, near Eagle Point.”

    With each assignment, Thompson said that they have reiterated the reason why she has found lasting satisfaction serving in the National Guard, and why she keeps pushing back her military retirement.

    “I was set to retire last month but I decided to stay another year because these critical local tasks have continued to revitalize my desire to support our communities around the state,” she said. “I really feel like this is the real reason why I joined the [National] Guard in the first place.”

    When she was re-activated for the second hospital support mission at OHSU on Jan. 14, 2022, Thompson said it made integrating back into the assignment quick and easy.

    “It really was like coming home, and it ensured that we could really ‘get a leg up’ coming back here because there were relationships already established.”

    This was crucial, as the Omicron variant sidelined much of the full-time staff at OHSU in late 2021 and into early 2022. Over 1,950 staff members tested positive, leaving the military members assigned to the hospital filling key roles and manning numerous important tasks.

    “We couldn’t have done this without our National Guard partners,” said Andrea Dayot, Director of Occupational Health at OHSU. “There were times when our staff was so depleted and having this already trained staff from the Oregon National Guard literally saved the day.”

    One of the critical needs during this time was for a mask fitting. By a twist of fate, Airman Lucas Nguyn, assigned to the Detachment 1, Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) was already trained in this role and provided multiple tests each day, ensuring M-95 masks were properly and efficiently fit for the staff working throughout the hospital.

    “He was the only person in the entire hospital who was able to do this for several weeks,” said Dayot, recalling this hectic point in the Omicron surge. “It’s bitter-sweet to see all our National Guard member's missions come to an end because we don’t want to let any of them go home now!”

    Echoing this sentiment, Thompson said that there were multiple times when one of the service members on her team played a vital role in this life-saving duty. “It was an amazing feeling to walk in the door, to be recognized, and to have staff members express profound relief to see us here.”

    With a majority of the soldiers and airmen being traditional guardsmen, Thompson said many of them have civilian skillsets that matched the jobs they were assigned to during this activation. “For some on this mission, they have ambulatory and patient records experience, but during previous mobilizations, we had medics and front line health providers working at mass vaccinations sites in early 2021.”

    With the activation ending for most service members on March 11, 2022, it will come as a welcome break and the chance to get back their civilian jobs and other endeavors. For Thompson, she hopes to get back to her family farm in Rainer, Oregon.

    “In-between all these deployments, in March of 2018, my husband and I purchased farmland to raise animals and transition into the next phase of life,” she said. “I am really hoping that we have turned the corner on the pandemic. I know almost everyone has put plans or goals on hold during the past couple of years.”



    Date Taken: 03.15.2022
    Date Posted: 03.15.2022 21:26
    Story ID: 416534
    Location: PORTLAND, OR, US

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