EAST GRANBY, Conn. – As Connecticut increases its number of COVID-19 vaccination sites throughout the state, 150 Airmen from the 103rd Airlift Wing have volunteered to help the Connecticut National Guard support its many enduring response missions, including COVID-19 testing and food distribution.
“Over the last week, we’ve seen a big increase in requests for Guard support,” said Lt. Col Garrett Caponetti, 118th Airlift Squadron pilot and Air National Guard liaison officer for the COVID-19 response. “As the Army side has redirected personnel to support the new vaccination sites, we’ve increased our personnel to make sure COVID-19 testing sites continue to receive the support from the Guard that they’ve requested.”
As requests are received by the Joint Operations Center at the Gov. William O’Neill Armory in Hartford, Caponetti relays the information to the 103rd’s emergency operations center at Bradley Air National Guard Base. EOC staff oversee personnel scheduling and track day-to-day operations of 103rd Airlift Wing members engaged in the COVID-19 response.
“We’re supporting 27 different testing sites and two food distribution sites – one at Rentschler Field in East Hartford and another in Killingly,” said 1st Lt. Joseph Hayward, 103rd Airlift Wing emergency operations center officer in charge. “The primary responsibility for the EOC is maintaining contact with the civilian site leaders and ensuring we’re providing adequate coverage to accomplish the mission out there.”
The Guard members at the testing sites have a hand in each part of the process, said Hayward.
“Our Airmen are doing some of the administrative work – when people arrive at the site, they’ll get them registered for their test and go through the prescreening questions,” said Hayward. “Some of them are also trained in doing the swabs, so they help conduct the tests as well.”
The 103rd is ensuring support measures are put in place for their personnel as well, said Caponetti.
“For every site we’re supporting, we’ve designated a junior officer or senior enlisted member to be an on-site team lead,” said Caponetti. “So all of the more junior members working the site report to that individual, and that individual helps them with any questions or concerns they may have.”
In addition to COVID-19 testing and food distribution sites, Airmen support other enduring missions, including the New Britain commodities warehouse and the medical planning cell.
“The medical cell is going through all the logistics of ordering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, getting them shipped to the state, and distributing them to people who want the vaccine on both the Army and Air side,” said Caponetti.
Guard members have smoothly adapted to an ever-evolving mission, said Caponetti.
“They’ve been handling it like professionals,” said Caponetti. “They’re proud to help the state battle this pandemic.”
This approach is reflected in the reports Hayward receives from the Guard-supported test sites.
“Every civilian site lead I’ve talked to has been very pleased and happy with the support we’ve been able to provide them,” said Hayward. “They have indicated that these tasks wouldn’t be able to get accomplished without our support.”