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Swamp Fox medical technicians support COVID-19 state response

  • Published
  • By Lt.Col. Jim St.Clair
  • 169th Fighter Wing/Public Affairs

Two U.S. Air National Guard Airmen with the South Carolina Air National Guard (SCANG) have been working on the leading edge of South Carolina’s medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jennifer Wagner and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jennifer Heller, 169th Medical Group aerospace medical technicians, have been on active duty orders since early May working across the state to augment local authorities’ medical response to COVID-19.

Wagner, a nurse during the week at the VA Medical Center in Morehead City, North Carolina, was called for activation May 11. Her first mission was responding to a COVID-19 hotspot at the Allendale Correctional Institution. U.S. Air Force Col. Phillip Latham, SCANG State Air Surgeon, was able to organize a joint team of Army and Air National Guard medical technicians to assist the South Carolina Department of Corrections request for medical assistance.

“We went in as a joint team and looked at what [Allendale] was doing and how they were doing it as far as screening and then we let them know what needed changing,” Wagner explained.

For example, Wagner advised the prison personnel on sanitation protocols, handwashing, as well as cross contamination hazards.

“Every day we would go in and screen [inmates]. We did temperature checks, pulses and oxygen levels. Over the course of the mission, we performed over 35,000 screenings,” she added.

In the three weeks supporting the facility, the efforts of Wagner’s team directly impacted having no new COVID-19 cases for 18 days straight. Wagner mentioned that this collaborative model between the National Guard and the Department of Corrections is being replicated at the Kirkland and Evans Correctional Institutions in June. Moving forward, Wagner will be working with the new South Carolina National Guard’s Medical Strike Team to perform COVID-19 community testing at hotspots across the state. The first deployment of this National Guard-led team was in Great Falls, South Carolina, June 9, 2020 where they administered 500 COVID-19 tests at the Great Falls Elementary School. Future strike team missions will be demand-driven based on hotspots popping up.

Heller recently returned from a successful mission supporting U.S. Army National Guard Soldiers with the South Carolina National Guard delivering meals to citizens in Horry County and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Heller, who is a nurse at Lexington Medical Center, partnered with U.S. Army Pvt. Noah Nakagawa, South Carolina Army National Guard medic, to administer medical support to Joint Task Force 59.

“The mission was to feed the community. When the school systems shut down they still needed to provide meals to the children. Our job as medics was to take care of the Army and take their temperature twice a day,” Heller said.

In the three weeks they were there, Heller said the National Guard served 24 communities more than 150,000 meals and put more than 20,000 miles on the buses.

“They did a fantastic job,” she added.