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Michigan National Guard
Story by Master Sgt. David Eichaker
LANSING, Mich.— During the first 90 days of 2021, the Michigan National Guard (MING) has supported communities throughout the state and administered more than 323,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in the fight against the virus.
Working with state partners, the MING received a request from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to support community healthcare organizations with logistical and medical assets for COVID-19 vaccinations across the state.
“During Michigan’s COVID-19 response, MDHHS is ensuring medical facilities have access to the COVID-19 vaccines to safeguard our residents,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, MDHHS. “The partnership between MDHHS and the Michigan National Guard has been vital to the success of the vaccine distribution and plays a significant role in the success of our mission.”
To meet MDHHS’ request, the MING established COVID-19 Vaccination Testing Teams (CVTT) which staffed Task Forces Red Lion, Spartan, North, and Bronco. The teams consist of medics and administrative assistants. Since January, more than 680 Michigan Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen, making up the CVTTs, have been traveling throughout the state supporting local health departments and communities.
Vaccination clinics have ranged in size from small-town communities to large-scale events, and the National Guard’s impact has been noticed.
“Our small department of 12 employees and several volunteers could never accomplish the task of vaccinating the residents of our county without the assistance of the Michigan National Guard,” said Lisa Burmeister, a social worker and site team director for Crawford County Health Department, located in Grayling.
Others echoed that sentiment.
“We’re planning on having 300 vaccines administered today,” said Jim Cook, emergency preparedness coordinator, Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency. “I think this is really good for residents of a small town to see the Guard come here in a helping capacity.”
With more than 4,600 vaccination events spanning across 64 counties, one of the largest clinics was recently held at a local college where more than 2,600 residents from 3 counties visited Delta College in order to receive their vaccine. The volume of vaccinations administered during the two-day clinic could not have been accomplished without the partnership of the Michigan National Guard (MING), and the Bay, Midland, and Saginaw county health departments.
In order to support this clinic, the MING supplied 30 CVTTs consisting of more than 90 Soldiers and Airmen.
“The eight weeks of planning for this weekend event is proving to be a complete success,” said U.S. Army Cpt. Jacob Burt, commanding officer of the 107th Engineer Battalion, Michigan Army National Guard, currently serving as the CVTT officer in charge. “The hard work of our Soldiers and Airmen combined with the local health department workers is nothing short of extraordinary.”
The Michigan National Guard began administering vaccines in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, starting with the elderly population and first responders.
“We have a lot of contact with the public,” said 1st Lt. Jay Poupard, operations section commander, Michigan State Police. “We want to ensure our employees, who choose to receive the vaccine to help keep them safe, have that opportunity.”
Like first responders, elderly who have received the vaccine shared the same enthusiasm.
“It’s important to my wife and I because we’re interested in protecting our health,” said Chuck Abshagen, from Onaway, Michigan. “We’re concerned about COVID and we’ve been anxiously waiting to get the vaccine.”
The MING is also supporting school districts as they take steps in safeguarding students and employees. One event vaccinated school employees from several school districts.
“We have seven school districts participating in this event,” said Tracy Hertsel, director of student support services and COVID director for Niles Community Schools. “We’re vaccinating school staff—more than just teachers—it’s administrators, bus drivers, food service, and any employee from the school districts.”
The vaccination mission doesn’t stop there. The Michigan National Guard has also been supporting local healthcare facilities to meet the demands of the health care system throughout the state.
“I think their (MING) ability to have a coordinated concerted effort is great and I’m glad they’re involved in the distribution process,” said Dr. Marc McClelland a pulmonary and critical care physician at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, Grand Rapids. “I really appreciate their support and service and especially so close to home here with COVID-19.”
Another priority of the Michigan National Guard is supporting Michigan’s veterans. The MING and the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) conducted a joint event vaccinating more than 290 military veterans 50 and older, their spouses, and caregivers who are 50 and older. CVTTs from Task Force North, assisted and ensured the Marquette health care agency had adequate personnel to perform various roles at the clinic. Vaccinators, assistants, and post-vaccination observers helped keep the process flowing smoothly.
“Creating this clinic was a high priority for the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Rogers, adjutant general and director of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “We believe anyone who has worn the uniform of our nation is a member for life, so high-quality care and benefits for our veterans could not be more meaningful to us as we continually seek to honor and serve those who have served before us.”
Providing emergency response to the state is a core function of the MING and the department as a whole. The National Guard has been integrated into the state’s emergency response to the pandemic from the very beginning. COVID-19 vaccination support by the Guard is expected to continue through spring 2021.