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Oregon National Guard wraps up hospital support mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steph Sawyer,
  • 142nd Wing

PORTLAND, Ore. – In late August, more than 300 Oregon Air Guardsmen from the Portland Air National Guard Base’s 142nd Wing were rapidly mobilized to provide emergency support to Oregon hospitals during a surge in COVID-19 cases.

From August to December, Joint Task Force Reassurance sent more than 1,500 Oregon Air and Army National Guardsmen to work in over 20 hospitals, many of them in the Portland metro area.

Military personnel worked over 300,000 hours in nonclinical support roles for nearly four months to ease the strain on hospital staff. Many of the tasks carried out by service members included turning, sitting with, and transporting patients, screening visitors and patients at hospital access points, aiding hospital security, cleaning, and preparing and delivering meals.

Lt. Col. Dawn Choy, 142nd Wing historian, was the deputy officer in charge of 150 military staff members at Providence Portland Medical Center from late August to late November. In addition to taking care of and managing her team, she worked directly with hospital staff, sitting with patients and preparing and delivering meals.

“Working alongside hospital staff was such a rewarding experience,” said Choy. “We knew they work hard and attend to patients every day, but I don’t think many of us truly understood what that meant in the real sense of being a caregiver to anyone at any time.”

Senior Airman Yingying Li, 142nd airfield management specialist, worked as a hospital access monitor at Providence St. Vincent in Portland from September to mid-December. She screened patients and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms and ensured safety protocols were followed.

Li said the most rewarding aspect of her role was helping patients and hospital staff in a critical time of need.

Guard members helped ensure a safe and secure hospital environment, enabling medical professionals to focus on patient care.

The mission marked the first time the Oregon Guard supplemented hospital staffing, and there was a lot the service members didn’t know going in.

Guard members had less than a week’s notice, and they didn’t know where they would be sent, what they would be doing, or how long they would be there.

Service members left their civilian jobs, and some left their homes and families to work in hospitals across the state.

“This mobilization presented a lot of challenges for many of us,” said Choy. “For my family, being a dual-military household with little kids, we had to be very creative to make this activation work.”

Choy’s husband was already activated for a COVID-19 response mission. Luckily, the couple’s extended family was able to help with childcare.

“I won’t say this was an easy task, but being resilient and resourceful, we made it work the best we could using all the resources we had available,” said Choy. “I do have to thank our family for their never-ending support.”

As 2021 came to a close, with the strain on state hospitals steadily easing, the Oregon National Guard began its drawdown, returning Guard members to their families and civilian careers.

A small contingent of the Joint Task Force staff will continue the mission up to Feb 28.