ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Every service member that enters the 36th Medical Group comes ready to perform their job, but is also assigned a wartime mission in a contingency response team, sometimes separate from their primary duty.
On March 24th, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) arrived on Guam, battling COVID-19 and seeking assistance, shortly after Cope North 2020 had ended.
“I stood up the medical operations center in March of last year, after Cope North 2020 and right at the beginning of the arrival of the Theodore Roosevelt,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Bailey Counts, flight commander for 36th MDG’s Medical Readiness and Commander Support Flights. “At that time, the readiness team finished receiving all the Cope North deployers, and then started to deploy out Expeditionary Medical Support teams for Theodore Roosevelt support at Naval Hospital Guam.”
As members were being pulled from their duties to support Theodore Roosevelt sailors, Public Health began working side by side with the 36th MDG Readiness and Logistics teams to create standard operating procedures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while learning more about the disease as it moved. This included creating mitigation measures that limited close contact with others, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing face coverings.
“The Theodore Roosevelt taught us more about COVID-19 from first-hand real-world experience, than even what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization was publishing, for example,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Chawntel Vega, 36th MDG Public Health Flight Commander. “From the way that the virus was spreading on the ships, we knew that face coverings were not a recommendation, they were a must for stopping transmission. The Theodore Roosevelt helped us learn what mitigation measures worked.”
Vega also said that it was with the USS Theodore Roosevelt that the 36th MDG learned that testing for positive members was unique. She said that they learned that once someone was positive, that they could continue being tested and respond positive for months, leading them to believe there was a fault in testing or a characteristic about the virus that caused prolonged transmission.
The 36th Public Health, Medical Readiness Flight and Logistics pulled together to take on the challenge, knowing that their work would benefit not only the operational status of the base, but also the quality of life for service members on base and for the people of Guam. Vega said she knew these three teams would need to work towards educating the base about the disease, while also partnering with the Government of Guam, Department of Public Health and Social Services and tri-service island partners to include Joint Region Marianas and NHG.
“All three of these agencies worked side-by-side to help prevent disease, disability and premature death,” said Vega. “Public Health is responsible for a diverse set of programs that cover community health, environmental health, occupational health and emergency management. These spheres result in reports of health and disease trends, surveys of transmission vectors and validates medical requirements for deploying Airmen. Our efforts are working when infectious and communicable diseases are low, and occupational illnesses and injuries are on a downward trend,” said Vega.
Due to 36th MDG Public Health, Medical Readiness and Logistics’ work, COVID-19 transmission rates are extremely low, and remain low after the largest community event in the Pacific Air Forces was hosted on AAFB three weeks ago.
“We knew it would be tough,” Vega said, speaking about her team along with the 36th MDG Medical Readiness and Logistics Flights. “We knew there would be long days and nights, but we also knew we had to protect our population, keep the installation safe and keep the island safe, especially with a limited healthcare infrastructure. Safety was paramount.”
The three unit’s efforts ultimately led them to an array of awards given out the beginning of the year to include the 36th MDG Public Health Flight winning the 2nd quarter team of the quarter and Vega securing the Company Grade Officer Award of the Year at the wing level. Vega also said that the 36th MDG Public Health Flight collaborated with the 36th MDG Logistics Flight, who won the 36th Wing Team of the Year award.
The 36th MDG Readiness Flight won the Air Force Medical Service Medical Readiness Team of the Year as well.
“The AFMS Medical Readiness Team OTY is an award which is presented to one medical readiness team Air Force-wide,” said Counts. “The winning team is recognized for outstanding actions, contributions and accomplishments to the delivery of trusted healthcare, continuous process improvement, promotion of well-being and expeditionary medical operations worldwide.”
The 36th MDG Medical Readiness Flight was selected for fulfilling all of the necessary requirements, to include a readiness rating of number one in PACAF and the USAF, saving thousands of dollars by diverting EMEDS and Aeromedical Evacuation exercises to the local area instead of abroad to ensure yearly readiness training, for deploying EMEDS twice in one year in support of Cope North 20 and to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, all while operating the Medical Control Center from the beginning of the COVID emergency until now, said Counts.
Vega’s last word before jumping into another virtual briefing was that the 36th MDG plans on continuing to ensure every program remains well maintained and available to all those who visit or are stationed here.
“The future remains clear for Public Health,” Vega said. “We hope to continue to improve programs that have taken a back-seat to COVID-19. Learning and growing through COVID-19 has helped us build confidence to continue to respond to any public health emergency, crisis or situation, and keep the installation healthy and safe through our continued efforts.
“I have been so incredibly proud of the 36th Wing and the 36th MDG,” said Vega. “We have had tremendous support from leadership, peers and service members at all levels throughout this very challenging year. As I sat at my table of our COVID Dining-Out Annual Awards event, seeing the major players having fun despite the grit, tears, trials and tribulations of the year, I was proud. This award is not mine alone, but belongs to Public Health, every group and the 36th Wing.”