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New Jersey Guard pitches in at home for veterans

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Bernard Cortes, left, speaks with 108th Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Holly Rivera at the Veterans Memorial Home at Vineland, N.J., May 19, 2020. Cortes, who is with the New Jersey National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing, is deployed as officer in charge to the home with a team of Airmen supporting staff with housekeeping, maintenance, health screening, food service, and life enrichment.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Bernard Cortes, left, speaks with 108th Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Holly Rivera at the Veterans Memorial Home at Vineland, N.J., May 19, 2020. Cortes, who is with the New Jersey National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing, is deployed as officer in charge to the home with a team of Airmen supporting staff with housekeeping, maintenance, health screening, food service, and life enrichment.

VINELAND, N.J. – When the call for volunteers came, 31 Citizen-Airmen with the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing stepped up to help at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home. Armed with cleaning supplies and a desire to help others, the Airmen have integrated themselves with the staff at the facility.

“Having the National Guard here has been really helpful,” said Allyson Bailey, the chief executive officer of the Vineland Home. “They’re supplementing our mission here, which is taking care of our residents. Some of the duties the Guard has assumed have been instrumental in helping us to reduce the spread of the virus in the home.”

Bailey said the housekeeping mission has been especially important.

“For our housekeepers, who have been working seven days a week with no days off, having that extra support has been pivotal,” said Bailey. “The Guard is also helping us out with life enrichment. Residents and families have not been able to directly interact for more than a month and a half now, so virtual visits, e-mails, and phone calls are very important to the resident’s families. It has been a tremendously positive thing to have them here helping us.”

“We’re supplementing where the facility really needs help,” said 1st Lt. Bernard Cortes, officer in charge of Team Vineland.

“Housekeeping, food service, health screening checkpoints, facility engineering, and life enrichment are some of the missions we’re doing here,” Cortes said. “Airmen are getting food orders for residents, talking with them, and keeping them in touch with their families. We’re giving them that interaction that is a basic human need.”

Cortes said the service members have developed a great relationship with Vineland’s staff.

“It means a lot for me to be a part of this,” said Cortes. “I’m from New Jersey, I grew up here. I look at the veterans and I want to give them the best care that I can. To see the residents smile and salute us, it makes it feel worthwhile.”

“It’s very rewarding,” said Senior Airman Connor Jarvis, who is working on the housekeeping team, “It’s nice to be able to help. I’m mopping floors, I’m sanitizing countertops, cleaning bathrooms and common areas eight hours straight.”

Senior Airman Casey Keevill said working with residents has had an impact on the lives of the service members as well as the veterans.

“I work directly with the residents,” said Keevill. “Our job is to keep residents involved and active. We start the morning by delivering newspapers and engage with them to see how they’re doing and what they need. It’s been great because you really get to know these people.”

“It’s been amazing seeing what the National Guard can do when our state needs us,” said Keevill. “You get a whole new perspective. Seeing it and being a part of it gives it so much more meaning.”

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