910th Medical Squadron storms front line in pandemic fight, in uniform and out

  • Published
  • By Eric M. White
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Three members of the 910th Medical Squadron are adding to the front line fight against COVID-19 by deploying to Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. At least 14 more are expected to soon follow suit.

The members include Maj. Douglas Shaffer, nurse anesthetist and officer in charge of unit safety and the fit-to-fight program, Capt. Jamila Thomas, clinical nurse and continuous process improvement lead, and Capt. Jennifer Denton, clinical nurse and officer in charge of immunizations.

New York is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Military members deploying as care providers seamlessly integrate with civilian care providers to bolster capacity for dealing with radically increased medical needs related to the virus. Servicemembers’ arrival at hospitals relieves civilian medical professionals who are working overtime to help tackle the surge of patients in need of intensive care.

Using their respective care provider capacities and skills, Shaffer, Thomas and Denton are all providing essential hands-on care in Intensive Care Units at Lincoln Medical Center. They are helping to save lives and provide comfort to those who cannot be saved.

The 910th Medical Squadron’s primary mission is to ensure the health and fitness for deployment of the 910th Airlift Wing’s Reserve Citizen Airmen. The unit’s functions normally include performing physicals, flight physicals and other health assessments and overseeing aspects of the Air Force’s physical fitness test. Many of the unit’s members work in the medical field in their civilian capacity and are already serving on the front lines against COVID-19 in Emergency Rooms, civilian hospitals, VA hospitals and ICUs across the country. Included among them is 910th Medical Squadron Commander Col. Colleen Kelley.

While providing leadership of the 910th MDS, Col. Kelley is also caring for a dramatically increased ER patient illness level as Dr. Kelley in her hometown emergency department.

“I’m extraordinarily proud of them,” said Kelley. “When the tasking order has come in, every one of them has stood up and said, ‘I’m in.’ They’re taking care of themselves and taking care of each other, ready to perform their skills to save Americans.”

Kelley explained that because this is a wide-spread disease, leadership has to consider whether a service member is performing a critical function in their civilian capacity before deciding whether that person should deploy in military status to another location.

“Some of them feel quite badly that they are unable to meet the military need,” said Kelley, “but the work they’re doing in their home community is equally important. The number of people who have volunteered who are not already in a critical role at home is, quite frankly, astonishing.”

The 910th Airlift Wing’s mission statement is: Combat ready NOW… for tomorrow’s fight!

910th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Casey Dodds sees the Airmen under his command exemplifying that mission statement by supporting fellow Americans against the pandemic.

“Last summer, if you asked what tomorrow’s fight would be, most likely it would have been thoughts of violent extremist organizations establishing a foothold in a far off land,” said Dodds. “The reality is quite different from how we’ve organized, trained and equipped. Now, we are tailoring our capabilities to provide the best possible support to the civilian agencies on the front line of today’s fight. I could not be more proud of our Citizen Airmen and their families. Fight’s On!”

Whether that fight is an international conflict, humanitarian crisis, cyber battle or, as the nation is facing now, a pandemic, the 910th’s personnel maintain readiness in their respective functions.

Chief Master Sgt. Chris Williams, the 910th Airlift Wing’s command chief, helps ensure the wing’s enlisted force is constantly ready to deploy and execute the mission.

“Our Citizen Airmen have clearly demonstrated the impressive ability to pack their bags, hug their families and board an aircraft within 24 hours of notification,” said Williams. “COVID-19 Support has compelled us to re-think our readiness model. As such, the American public and even the world at large gets one more demonstration that the United States of America possesses the most lethal and best trained Reserve forces. As your leaders, we stand in awe of what you have demonstrated to us, the American people and the world.”

The 910th Medical Squadron has a battle cry that is familiar to most personnel at Youngstown Air Reserve Station. It’s best communicated by the squadron shouting it in unison, but according to the unit’s commander, requires specific punctuation to write effectively.

“It’s ‘MDS…yes! Yes!! YES!!!” said Kelley. “It is an honor to be their commander.”