PANDEMIC SOLUTIONS

Arizona National Guard, Air Force partner to provide COVID-19 vaccinations

More than 5,000 have received ‘the shot’ under joint program

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The Arizona National Guard has partnered with its active-duty counterparts from the 56th Medical Group at Luke Air Force Base and the 355th Medical Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson to vaccinate active-duty service members and their families, Department of Defense civilians and military retirees at those locations.

Arizona National Guard’s state surgeon, Army Col. Tom Leeper, said due to deployments, Luke AFB and Davis-Monthan AFB had identified opportunities where vaccination teams from the Arizona Guard could help supplement their losses.

“The partnership between the guard and active duty is really important because we help support one another, whether it’s in times of a pandemic or national contingencies,” said Air Force Capt. Jessica Bunker, 161st Medical Group, officer in-charge of infection prevention, currently serving on the COVID-19 response mission. “We [the National Guard] can help step up and support them in areas they need.”

Airmen from the 161st MDG don’t always have the opportunity to work alongside active-duty service members.

However, this mission has provided that opportunity, which lets them see a different way of doing things. It also allowed them to build relationships that will benefit both components in the future.

“This mission is so important, because not only are we building bonds between the guard and active duty — as well as reservists — the civilians are seeing us working together, and that the military, as a whole, wants to keep people safe,” Capt. Bunker said.

The partnership has been so successful that AZNG personnel were originally scheduled to be at Luke for only a few weeks supporting the base’s mass vaccination effort but were asked to stay another month or two because of the joint team’s success.

Senior Master Sgt. Jessica Munoz-Stewart, 162nd Medical Technician superintendent, currently serving on the COVID-19 response mission, said the medical group often works directly with Davis-Monthan’s 355th MGD during non-pandemic times and often relies on the active component’s help.

“This mission has really helped better our relationship with them,” she said. “It has allowed us to do some networking and receive training. They have been really welcoming. We are sharing roles and forming a really solid partnership.”

Citizen soldiers and airmen from the Guard are not the only ones benefiting from the partnership. For many of the active-duty airmen, this is the first time they have worked alongside their Reserve counterparts.

“We are a team. We are all working together trying to get the same mission done,” said Senior Airman Anthony Hernandez, 56th MGD, aerospace medical technician, currently serving in the joint vaccination team. “Having the Guard here has really helped out a lot, we’ve had a lot of people deploy, and they’ve provided a lot of help.”

As of the end of May, the joint COVID-19 teams at Luke and Davis-Monthan had provided more than 5,000 vaccinations.

Those eligible to be vaccinated at either base may schedule an appointment with their medical group. Walk-ins are also being taken.

Editor’s note: Tech Sgt. Michael Matkin is with the Arizona National Guard’s 161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office.

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