When the first 20 soldiers of the 301st Medical Squadron of the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base got the call on a Friday afternoon in early April to deploy to New York, they had no orders other than to assemble at the Javits Center. The unit – made up of doctors, physicians assistants, nurses, and various other medical professions – were then given individual assignments and mobile phones. The mobile phones enabled the squadron to receive updates for logistics and transportation to locations while remaining in touch with the entire unit.
The assignments were spread among hospitals in the area working directly with COVID-19 patients. The team began in places like Jacoby Medical Center, turning full wings of the hospital into an ICU while working in full protective suits – scrubs, caps, protective eye wear, N-95 masks – fully covered up. These hospitals, including teaching hospitals, have converted to full COVID-19 support hospitals with the help of the 301st. All hands are on deck at each location daily – including undergraduate students, resident doctors and many volunteers who have never worked in an ICU before.
In the hospitals of NYC, when a patient comes off a respirator, they play “Fight Song” by singer Rachel Platten. If someone is released from the hospital’s care, they play Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”.
According to the unit, they have all the equipment they need to fight COVID-19, and they are not running short of PPE. They were, however, short of one thing – snacks and entertainment during downtime.
Based at a hotel in Times Square, the group receives their orders from commanding officers to tend to various hospitals’ needs via their issued mobile phones. Each day, they split up, board special buses, and head to their destinations. They may work for 4 days straight without a break, then have a few days off. There are no Broadway shows, but the occasional jog through Central Park (masked up) keeps down time active. Otherwise, there is a lot of sitting and waiting at the hotel.
When Lieutenant Colonel Troy Houston noted the downtime to his wife, Sandy, she had an idea. Sandy is the Human Resources Generalist for Protec Equipment Resources, Inc., which was looking for ways to help during the crisis. When Sandy told company president Cody Richards about the deployment, Cody sprang into action with Sandy, creating a plan and approving funds. Protec quickly responded with a large care package of games and snacks to keep the troops entertained and fed. The care package was very well received, and the snacks were the most appreciated, disappearing quickly!
301st Medical Squadron just before deployment to New York City
301st Medical Squadron at hotel in New York City. Lt. Colonel Troy Houston, far left.
A second group of 20 soldiers from the 301st have rotated into service in New York, reinforcing the unit to 40 responders. The first group have been told that they will tentatively be taken off the front line and rotated back to Texas at the end of May. At the end of their two-month deployment, they will be quarantined on base for two weeks before they can return home.
Protec salutes the men and women of the 301st Medical Squadron, currently deployed in NYC, helping save lives affected by COVID-19, with care for our first responders!