BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. – When most Americans think of the Air Force and warfighting, they probably picture fighter jets engaged in dogfights in the skies above a hostile country, or in the case of Air Force Global Strike Command – bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles wreaking havoc on the enemy.
However, in the current battle America is fighting – one against COVID-19, an upper respiratory coronavirus – it is the Air Force’s medical personnel who are fighting on the front lines.
Col. Virginia Garner, AFGSC command surgeon, leads a team of 21 medical professionals in a battle unlike the world has seen in more than 100 years.
For Garner, a board certified nurse practitioner, this fight is something she has long trained for.
“I’ve been fortunate to serve as an exercise planner at few assignments and then a commander five times in a medical group, so planning for disasters or contingencies is not new,” Garner said. “Disease containment plans are part of the wing emergency plan, so pandemic prep is required, but oftentimes hard to fully exercise due to the immense impact an event of this magnitude would have.”
“We are seeing and living the reality of global impact now,” she continued. “History would teach us that something like the 1918 pandemic would happen again and we can try to plan for it, but living through it really put things into perspective and we’ve learned a lot.”
Garner said the number one priority in the fight against COVID-19 is to protect the Airmen, their families and the base population that execute the global-strike mission while decreasing the transmission of this disease.
Keeping Airmen in the command safe and COVID-free is critical to protect the AFGSC mission.
“The leadership team and the entire staff at Headquarters Global Strike Command have done an outstanding job taking strategic and tactical proactive measures to protect our Airmen and their families and preserve long-range strike capability,” Garner said. “Let there be no doubt, we are mission ready!”
Part of that readiness is being prepared for any contingency. From the very beginning of the pandemic in the U.S., Garner said the entire surgeon general directorate, with its sole public health officer, Lt. Col. Derec Hudson at the point, engaged to communicate facts, develop tools and advise on risk mitigation strategies. In addition, the surgeon general team partnered with the studies, assessments and lessons-learned and chief scientist directorates on predictive modeling and facilitated medical contingency response plans.
“Many of the products developed were shared with other MAJCOMs as benchmarks,” she said. “I’m so proud of the team!”
Garner said unlike more traditional wars that only the military can fight, everyone has a role to play in this battle.
“This pandemic has brought to light that everyone has a role in preventing the spread of disease, and simple things such as washing your hands, cough etiquette and staying home when you are sick makes a difference,” she said. “COVID-19 kills, especially some of the most vulnerable in our society, and we can defeat this enemy if everyone does their part.”