FORT SMITH, Ark. --
As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases accelerates in the United States, nurses are being called to the front lines of health care response fighting not only for the lives of their patients but also for the lives of their families and themselves.
Capt. Breeanna Howerton is an Arkansas Air National Guard clinical nurse with the 188th Wing, but also a registered nurse at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks here. Her childhood dream of wanting to help people has culminated in a career with more than 20 years of civilian and military experience in the medical community.
Howerton is no stranger to a challenge, having worked long days caring for patients in uniform overseas, but she says it doesn’t stack up when compared to the daily challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no comparison,” she said. “The lack of information with this new virus changes everything. This is uncharted territory for military and civilian alike.”
It’s not just during the workday that Howerton faces down challenges. Capt. Howerton’s husband, 188th Mission Support Group Vice Commander, Lt. Col. Troy Howerton, is currently playing the role of lead educator and father.
“Thankfully we have wonderful supervisors and leaders in the 188 who are understanding and have been gracious enough to allow my husband to work a flex schedule.” said Lt. Col. Howerton “They will never know how much it means to us. We couldn’t do this without them.”
“We do not have family who lives close to help with childcare,” Capt. Howerton said. “Due to having an essential, occupation, I am expected to be at work every day.”
The one advantage dual-military families like the Howertons have is the ability to adapt to changing situations and disrupted routines. Their two young sons are adjusting to their new “normal” with ease—after talking it over with their parents.
“Initially, I did not talk about Covid-19 with my children because I didn’t want them to be worried,” said Howerton. “But as the situation got worse and the virus made its way closer to home, I knew I would have to speak to them about it because our routine would somewhat change.”
One of the biggest struggles the kids had to get used to was not getting hugs from their mom when she arrived home from work.
“I change clothes and shoes before I leave work to go home and bag the scrubs I wore for the day,” Howerton explained. “As soon as I get home, I take my other shoes off at the door, wash the scrubs in hot water, and go shower. After all of that is completed, we can go back to ‘normal.’”
Although she takes all those precautions, Howerton admits that life will never be truly normal until COVID-19 is over.
“Our 7-year-old son has moderate, persistent asthma,” she said. “Every day, I go home and wonder if this is the day I may have contracted COVID-19 and could be bringing it home to my family.”
Howerton offers this advice for anyone wanting to help service members and health care workers in this fight:
“Stay home if you can and think of others. Reach out over the phone to our Airmen. Make sure they are okay. Help them reach out to their supervisor if needed. Remember, we are all in this together.”