Michigan National Guard support brings optimism during COVID-19 vaccination clinic

An Airman with the Michigan Air National Guard checks the registration of a resident during a COVID-19 community vaccination event, Benton Harbor, Michigan, Feb. 19, 2021. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Michigan National Guard have been working together throughout the pandemic to increase access to COVID-19 vaccinations across the state for Michiganders. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. David Eichaker)

Michigan National Guard

Story by Master Sgt. David Eichaker

BENTON HARBOR, Mich.— The Michigan National Guard’s (MING) COVID-19 vaccination testing teams (CVTT) continues its sweep across the Great Lakes State. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) asked for MING assistance in the state’s battle against the novel virus. At the request of MDHHS, the MING has been assisting local health departments with the state’s vaccination efforts.

“Today’s clinic is a second dose clinic,” said Courtney Davis, deputy health officer for the Berrien County Health Department. “This is primarily our healthcare workers who we vaccinated earlier in January as well as the 65 and over population, so today we have just over 700 residents coming in for their second dose.”

With more than 700 vaccinations scheduled for today, the Michigan National Guard has partnered with the Berrien County Health Department to assist them with this mission.

“We have four National Guard teams here today for a total of 12 Guard members,” said Davis. “Our vaccinators are in the conference room, consisting of Guard members and healthcare workers.”

“We have Guard members helping with the data entry and working with our team in non-medical support roles as well,” she said.

Only Guard members who have received the proper training are authorized to administer the vaccination. For the Michigan Army National Guard, combat medics meet those requirements. The medic student begins training as an emergency medical technician (EMT) to include basic life support, emergency medical care and evacuation, minor acute care, inpatient and outpatient care, and basic force health protection. After graduating from the 16-week program, they are certified to the national standards of an EMT.

“Each of the medics administers the COVID-19 vaccine to general population,” said U.S. Army Pfc. Jonah Miller, combat medic with 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment, Michigan Army National Guard, currently with CVTT Task Force Bronco.

Miller comes from a military family. His father, an Army veteran, served in Desert Storm, his younger brother is in the Air Force, and his older brother is in a military police unit with the Michigan Army National Guard. Although he has more than 2 years of service under his belt, this is his second mobilization with the Guard.

“I was on the task force last spring performing COVID-19 testing throughout the state,” said Miller. “Although I joined the guard for education benefits and giving back to the community, I really enjoy seeing and helping people from the communities.”

During the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation is to maintain social distancing, to include limited travel. The vaccine brings a sense of returning back to a pre-COVID-19 life that people can see friends and family soon.

“There is a lot of separation and people need that connection point,” said Davis. “I think being to the point of vaccination gives hope that we’re getting back to that in the near future.”

“We’ve heard stories of people not seeing grandkids in months and after vaccine, there is hope for having those reconnections,” she said.

One couple shares that optimism.

“My wife and I have been isolating from family,” said Morgan McDonnell, a recipient of the vaccine. “We’ve been completely isolated—no grocery store or anything and just having everything delivered, so now, this will give us a chance to get us back into real life and see family and friends.”

The National Guard’s motto of Always Ready, Always There continues to hold true and solidifies the importance of the Guard as a partner in the community.

“We couldn’t staff our clinics without the National Guard and they have been key to staffing the larger clinics we have hosted,” said Davis. “Especially with the vaccinators—we have an amazing public health nurse team but we only have so many and the Guard helps us spread our efforts to more areas and to a larger scale.”

“The Guard really fills in critical needs that we have for our vaccination clinics,” she said.

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