Michigan National Guard
Story by Master Sgt. David Eichaker
LANSING, Mich.— Soldiers and Airmen with Michigan’s Army and Air National Guard continue making impacts across communities as partnerships with local health departments develop into both mass and small town vaccination clinics.
One clinic was held in Battle Creek.
“Today we are doing primarily our second dose for COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic,” said Brigette Reichenbaugh, deputy health officer with Calhoun County Public Health Department. “We expect to vaccinate about 900 people today.”
“We are trying to do clinics throughout the county so we can reach all the populations,” she said.
With more than 600 vaccination clinics scheduled throughout the week, the Michigan National Guard (MING) revisits counties across the State ensuring maximum opportunities for those who wish to receive the vaccine.
“We’ve done five to six clinics with the Guard at different locations throughout the county so we can reach places like Battle Creek, which is the highest population,” said Reichenbaugh. “We have also held vaccination clinics with Marshall, Albion, and in Tekonsha, which is our most southern and smallest community.”
The MING presence hasn’t gone unnoticed. It continues providing COVID-19 Vaccination Testing Teams (CVTT) to local healthcare organizations in the set up and administration of vaccinations.
“It’s been really helpful to have the Michigan National Guard assist us because it relieves our staff to be able to do other vaccination clinics throughout the county,” said Reichenbaugh. “We have Guard members educating people on the vaccine, directing from the registration to the vaccination stations, … and we have Guard members doing the actual vaccines as well.”
“It’s been a great partnership, a great collaboration, and help to all of our staff,” she added.
Many people join the Michigan National Guard for a variety of reasons, including community support. One Airman, attached to the 127th Maintenance Squadron, 127th Wing, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, reflects on his current assignment.
“This is the real reason why I joined,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joe Wilhoit, currently assigned to the MING’s CVTT Task Force Bronco. “When I joined in 1990, I was just hoping to help out the community and contribute back to society.”
“This makes my whole career worth it,” he said.
The 28-year veteran has had multiple deployments to include Afghanistan and Iraq but marks this state mobilization as his most fulfilling.
“It is rewarding to help out your fellow citizens and the older population—they hold the key to the past. You can’t learn from the past without them,” said Wilhoit.
The team leader, currently assigned as a noncommissioned officer in charge with his task force, has been on orders for about a month and in charge of medical and administrative portion of the clinic operations. He discussed the significance of what this mission means to him.
“I lost my parents and my grandparents (not to COVID-19) and the idea of being able to help save somebody else’s is rewarding,” he said. “The best part of this job is you get to see the immediate fruits of your labor and it’s very gratifying.”
“I miss my mom every day and I don’t want somebody else to miss their mom one day too soon,” he said.
With the vaccines available by appointment for those 65 years and older, and the task of supporting mass vaccination events statewide, receiving the vaccination brings a sense of hope to Michiganders during uncertain times.
“I think a lot of residents have had that fear of getting COVID and being in that highest risk population so getting vaccinated perhaps relieves some of that stress,” said Reichenbaugh. “I feel it will give people a sense of going back to some sort of normalcy, especially for the seniors who haven’t been able to see their kids, grand kids, or families.”
The Michigan National Guard is working multiple vaccination clinics each day with more than 90 CVTTs deployed throughout the state. A resident from a second location today held in Centerville, Michigan, who received her first dose discusses the importance of receiving the vaccine.
“We haven’t been around our kids and grandkids for a year,” said Margaret Mangold, resident of Colon, Michigan. “Hopefully after the second vaccine we will be able to get back to normal and see two of our grandkids in the Upper Peninsula.”
For the past year, Mangold and her husband have been social distancing from family members and hoping that will end soon.
“From a distance we have seen family members but not close,” she said. “They want to protect us and of course we don’t want to share anything with them.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Michigan National Guard has been working together with state and local health officials to increase vaccination access across the state and plans to continue that partnership throughout the vaccination process.
“We couldn’t do this without our community partners, our volunteers, and the community has been so thankful,” said Reichenbaugh.