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From Tech School to COVID-19, an Airman’s Journey

Master Sgt. Jennifer Cooper, NCOIC Public Health, 167th Medical Group, searches for a file in her office, at the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W. Va., June 11, 2020. Disease prevention is the core function of her office.

Master Sgt. Jennifer Cooper, NCOIC Public Health, 167th Medical Group, searches for a file in her office, at the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W. Va., June 11, 2020. Disease prevention is the core function of her office. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Tim Sencindiver)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --

Master Sgt. Jennifer Cooper graduated the Public Health Apprentice Course in January, but she didn’t predict the new knowledge would be so vital in a global pandemic just a few months later.

As the non-commissioned officer in charge of public health for the 167th Airlift Wing, Cooper is not new to the 167th Medical Group. She previously served as a health service management craftsman processing line of duty determinations and other administrative responsibilities for 11 years.

“I didn’t really have a choice but to learn quick and think fast,” said Cooper.  She added COVID-19 has presented the opportunity to adapt quickly to changing guidance and provide innovative solutions to keep base personnel and the community safe.

Disease control is the core function of her office. Therefore, she is focused on preventing COVID-19 transmission through unit education and advising wing leadership.

“Cooper has done such a good job at public health, and that really makes my job a lot easier,” said Lt. Col. Barry Rowekamp, 167th Medical Group Chief of Aerospace Medicine and flight surgeon.

The public health team organize prevention and control programs, interview patients, and then conduct contact-tracing. This type of vital medical intelligence is done solely by the public health office, which helps mitigate COVID-19 from the base populous by quarantining symptomatic or potentially exposed individuals when necessary.

Cooper and her team are responsible for collecting and updating information on all active and potential cases of base personnel. If they are symptomatic, public health encourages testing by a primary care provider. Cooper and Senior Airman Alisia Turner, a public health technician, contact members every three days, for 15 days.

In addition to public health, Cooper also monitors occupational hazards that could be a health risk to the force. The public health office monitors exposure to any occupational hazards like chemicals, heat/cold stress, and noise to ensure an Airman’s health is not impacted by their job.

“Field work is my favorite, because you get to go out to all the different shops. I had probably set foot one time in maintenance, in my whole career out here, and now I get to go inside maintenance to their shops and really get to see what everyone does, which shows how everyone plays a part in making the mission successful,” said Cooper.

Despite not knowing when the pandemic will end, Cooper said she is committed to balancing all aspects of the public health mission.

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