The New Year brings hope after 9 months of COVID-19 response efforts

  • Published
  • By Air Force Master Sgt. Paul Gorman, Wisconsin Air National Guard
  • 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

After nearly nine months of Wisconsin Air National Guardsmen providing support for COVID-19, we look forward to what the New Year has in store.

With Gov. Tony Evers initially declaring a public health emergency on March 12, 2020, the 115th Fighter Wing first convened the unit’s Crisis Action Team in response to the growing threat posed by the global pandemic.

Key members of the unit were appointed to work closely with the state’s Joint Operations Center to address requests from local authorities and coordinate 115th FW Airmen.

“It’s been an impressive year in regards to Domestic Operations activations and missions,” said Lt. Col. Keith Hofkens, the Domestic Operations Liaison Officer.  “I’d have to estimate that 33 to 50% of our Airmen have been activated at least once for a Federal or State activation since last March.”

The 115th Medical Group first took immediate action to identify members available to assist with the staffing of three separate isolation centers. The facilities were established to allow symptomatic and COVID positive individuals without the means to self-isolate, a safe location in which to do so.

Approximately eight Airmen were selected to facilitate 24 hour operations at two sites in Milwaukee, and one in downtown Madison. They assisted with resident in-processing, daily medical checkups, and the distribution of meals to 177 occupants over an 11 week period.  

Shortly thereafter nearly 40 more 115th Airmen volunteered to staff the state’s first alternate care facility. Construction of the 500 bed facility at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds was completed April 18, and insured the continued capability to care for COVID-19 patients should numbers exceed the capacity of area hospitals.

On April 7, the state primary election highlighted a need to bolster polling locations as the pandemic presented a significant risk to many seasoned polling workers. Over 150 115th Airmen were called upon to join the largest single mobilization in the history of the Wisconsin Guard. Altogether more than 2,400 Soldiers and Airmen were mobilized to staff sites in 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties to assure the polls would remain open.

The mission was repeated for the Wisconsin primary on August 11 during which nearly 50 115th Airmen contributed to the 250 National Guardsmen staffing polling locations.

For the first time in state history, the Air National Guard assumed command and control of a domestic support mission during the November 3 election. Wing members played key roles in organizing and providing National Guard support to 94 polling locations in 53 Wisconsin counties.  

As the need to improve COVID-19 testing capacity increased, 115th FW Airmen again responded, assuming an integral role in the statewide specimen collection mission.

On April 5, Truax Field’s medical NCO in charge joined the Wisconsin National Guard’s first specimen collection mission to a nursing and rehabilitation center in Sheboygan.

In response to a request for added support from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, an additional 41 members joined the April 19 mobilization of 225 guard members into the specimen collection mission.

Airmen assigned to collection teams helped facilitate mobile testing sites in locations identified by the state’s Department of Health Services. They have responded to outbreaks at correctional facilities, nursing homes and private businesses, as well as aided in establishing drive-through testing sites in numerous communities across the state.

As an integral part of the ongoing Wisconsin National Guard specimen collection mission, 70 115th FW members have helped to collect nearly 990,000 specimens from approximately 700 testing sites in 66 counties.

115th Airmen have also contributed to the states COVID-19 testing by staffing a multi-lingual call center. Established on April 22, the center helps relay test results to anyone passing through a National Guard specimen collection site. Over 40 115th Airmen have contributed to placing more than 560,000 calls as of December 14.

Additionally, between April 14 and June 12, approximately 12 Airmen assigned to the 115th FW Fatality Search and Recovery Team mobilized to support the Dane County Coroner’s Office. As part of a joint service member team, they contributed to the transport of 133 decedents, preventing COVID related fatalities from overwhelming existing capacity.

Despite the variety of COVID-19 support missions 115th members have contributed to, extreme care has been made to assure the wing’s primary mission remains unaffected. Strict adherence to protective health measures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have significantly contributed to the unit’s flying mission, by protecting the health of the Airmen who maintain it.

As Wisconsin residents continue to face social and economic hardships brought on by the pandemic, the 115th Fighter Wing will remain on mission.