HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. – Col. John Farr is an Army infantry officer who has multiple combat deployments under his belt and serves as the commander of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
Col. Scott Coradi is an Air Force medical officer who is an emergency medicine physician for his full-time civilian job and serves as commander of the 111th Attack Wing’s Medical Group.
Despite their different backgrounds, Farr and Coradi have been thrust together as commander and senior medical officer, respectively, of Pennsylvania Task Force South, part of the PNG’s statewide response to COVID-19.
They agree that working together has been a learning experience.
“Building a shared understanding of the mission and synchronizing all of our efforts is a challenge in any situation, and especially in a crisis,“ Farr said. ”Personally, I try to remember patience, open communication, and that everyone is doing their best to solve the problem together.”
“Assuming responsibility mid-mission has required me to rapidly assess and address areas of concern,“ Coradi said. “I have had to assess risk and determine mitigation strategies with limited resources, limited information and often limited time.”
While Farr and Coradi each have extensive experience in their fields, fighting an invisible biological enemy like COVID-19 is something neither of them has much experience with.
Farr noted that, unlike a traditional battle, the front line in this fight is long-term care facilities, hospitals and community testing sites.
“As a Stryker brigade, we are used to measuring our combat power in Strykers, howitzers or infantry squads,“ he said. “In the COVID fight, our medics and providers have become the ‘pacing item‘ and most valuable resource.”
Caring for residents in nursing homes is a very different mission than the wartime taskings of PTF South’s Soldiers and Airmen, Coradi said.
“The teams are providing both physical and emotional support to those they serve,“ he said. “The operations tempo is very dependent on the needs of each facility. The teams are meeting the needs of the facility fully and confidently.“
While Coradi has some experience upon which he can draw to advise in the fight against this pandemic, he said he has still room for reflection. His largest hurdle has been developing a common operating position for the task force‘s service members, he said.
“[I’m] surprised by the size of the efforts and the complexities behind the operations,“ he said. “The Army method of communication is extremely effective and succinct.”
PTF South is one of three regional task forces – along with PTF North and PTF West – that the Pennsylvania National Guard can activate to provide command and control of assets during domestic emergencies. All three have been stood up for the COVID-19 response.
PTF South is headquartered at Horsham Air Guard Base in Bucks County and has activated about 800 Air and Army National Guard members from units across southeastern Pennsylvania for COVID-19 operations.
“I am grateful beyond words for all that our Soldiers and Airmen are doing out there,“ Farr said. “It is grueling and incredibly hard work. Our Soldiers and Airmen are literally saving lives and making a difference in our communities.”
“They have the responsibility of caring for our veterans and fellow citizens all the while protecting them from this dangerous, invisible enemy,“ Coradi added. “They are doing this mission confidently and honorably.”