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173rd Medical Group rises to the challenge during COVID-19

looking at bleach

U.S Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kendall Nielsen, 173rd Medical Group non-commissioned officer in charge bioenvironmental, checks a bottle of bleach for an Environmental Protection Agency number signifying its effectiveness against viruses like COVID-19, April 8, 2020. The medical group has seen their operations tempo leap in response to the spread of COVID-19 across the country and around the world as they work to keep the wing’s mission of training F-15C pilots in the air. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

Public Health tech

U.S Air Force Tech. Sgt. Amy Yuchniuk, a 173rd Medical Group Public Health Technician, updates the daily health update, which keeps the base populace informed of the status of COVID-19 cases in the community and ongoing mitigation measures, April 8, 2020. The medical group has seen their operations tempo leap in response to the spread of COVID-19 across the country and around the world as they work to keep the wing’s mission of training F-15C pilots in the air. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

carrying boxes of masks

U.S Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rene Horne, Senior Airmen Jamie Rogers and Tech. Sgt. Brandy Halvorsen, 173rd Medical Group, carry N-95 masks during preparation for possible state activation for 173rd Fighter Wing Airmen, April 8, 2020. The medical group has seen their operations tempo leap in response to the spread of COVID-19 across the country and around the world as they work to keep the wing’s mission of training F-15C pilots in the air. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. --

As the novel virus, COVID-19, commanded more and more of the world’s attention in early 2020, those in the medical field quickly prepared to fight the virus. The 173rd Fighter Wing Medical Group has been in the thick of this fight since the outset, said Chief Master Sgt. Tina McKenzie, the superintendent of the medical group.

“For our people the ops tempo peaked along with the new cases,” she said.  She added that all of the staff worked long hours that extended to working from home after long days in the office.

Senior Master Sgt. Rene Horne describes the long laundry list of tasks that made her and her team feel as though they were running a marathon.

“Response planning, activating community partners, reviewing containment plans, wing response to positive COVID including PPE, daily cleaning as well as deep cleaning for positive cases after being identified,” she said. “Reporting requirements to NGB, the Joint Operations Center in Salem and wing leadership...” and the list goes on.  Additionally, they are tasked with  state activation processing and screening, as well as and lending assistance to community partners like the hospital.  Not to mention organizing plans for teleworking to name a few.

This list of tasks each demanded their attention simultaneously but however daunting the circumstances, McKenzie says that these medical professionals rise to the occasion.

“The cool part is, this is what the medical group was made for,” said McKenzie. “Now, they have come together as a team and found their rhythm, and it’s been an honor to see it and be part of it.”

The flight doctors at the wing also played a pivotal role. Dr. Teresa Lanier, a lieutenant colonel who also has a doctorate in biochemical and cellular endocrinology,  has made house calls at all hours of the day as well as phone calls and tracking information on the disease.

“This is all right up my biochemistry alley; this is all fascinating,” she said. “The biochemistry of infections and physiology with this particular bug provides great reading for me at night—which is really nerdy,” she adds with a big laugh.

She can quickly leave the layperson with a confused look on their face as she describes technical aspects of COVID-19, but with her understanding she says the mitigation efforts at Kingsley Field make perfect sense and encourages base Airmen to follow the guidance for personal hygiene, social distancing and mask wear.

“This is what every Airman has, that one pivotal moment that defines your entire service,” said Lt. Col. Richard Long, the acting medical group commander. “This will be that time for a lot of our Airmen.”

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