Two hand-selected teams of Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen trained at Volk Field, Wisconsin, Oct. 30-Nov. 2 to respond in the event of an Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in the state.
The teams, known as Joint Healthcare Assistance Teams, could augment hospitals and medical professionals if the virus were to surface in Wisconsin. The National Guard will train and prepare a third JHAT Dec. 10.
Made up of Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard nurses, physicians' assistants, doctors and medical liaison personnel, the teams trained at the state's Regional Emergency All-Climate Training Center at Volk Field, where officials from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services validated their training. The partnerships between the National Guard and other state agencies have been crucial to preparing the teams.
"The Wisconsin National Guard is a welcome partner and a vital part of the state's overall Ebola preparedness," said Karen McKeown, State Health Officer. "I and other representatives from the Department of Health Services had an opportunity to observe their training for an Ebola response, and we are confident they would be ready to respond if needed. We are grateful for their willingness and abilities to protect the health and safety of Wisconsin residents."
During their training, the teams received background information on the virus, how it can be transmitted and information on treatment procedures. Members of the Wisconsin National Guard 54th Civil Support Team and hazardous materials team representatives from the Appleton and La Crosse Fire Departments also instructed the JHATs how to properly don and doff protective suits without contaminating themselves or others and how to handle hazardous materials.
The JHAT is made up of Guardsmen who already work as medical professionals in their civilian lines of work. In the National Guard, they also serve as doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. The teams were called to state active duty by the governor to prepare for a potential response.
As a civilian, Capt. Jennifer Reetz is a nurse at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Madison. She also serves as a nurse in the Wisconsin Army National Guard's medical detachment. She is relishing the opportunity to serve her state in a military role.
"I am very excited, because as a nurse, sometimes my roles are limited in the military setting, and years ago when I became a nurse, I did it because I was passionate about patient care," she said. "So this is actually a chance for me to combine the two entities into one and really do what I'm passionate about, which is to take care of the ill."
Her role on the team, she said, would be similar to what she does as a floor nurse in a civilian hospital, but the training at Volk Field taught her how to properly use protective equipment and procedures to ensure she keeps herself, her patients and the greater community safe.
Fellow Army nurse Capt. April Nelson, works as a civilian in the Tomah VA hospital. In her mind, the JHAT represents the best of the National Guard and its ability to serve both a state and federal mission.
"This was all voluntary," she said. "We were approached with the mission to want to be part of this select team, and the selflessness of putting a person out there in the situation to care for a patient with this disease and be able to want to do it-It's definitely a great organization."
"I think that it shows our commitment to the community," Nelson added. "I think it shows our willingness to want to protect them and put ourselves in front of the actual population."
Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, the state's adjutant general, noted that the National Guard has a unique ability to respond to the needs of the state and nation, whatever they may be.
"Whether we're serving in combat overseas, or we've been called to a wildfire, flood, tornado or to combat the spread of a deadly disease, the National Guard remains ready to answer the call when asked," he said. "Our organization was proud to partner with the Department of Health Services to develop this capability."
Wisconsin Air National Guard Maj. Karice Stern, a physician and flight surgeon with the 176th Fighter Squadron, agreed.
"It proves as Guard and Reserve troops that we are huge assets to the United States military," she said. "We are people who have civilian lives, civilian careers and civilian expertise that we can integrate into this military response but also enhance what the military is trying to do."
Stern said the training that the JHAT received was well-researched and well-organized. She also noted the National Guard's ability to respond so quickly and build a professional team ready to assist.
"I think that as Guard and Reservists we take a lot of pride in our ability to multi-task and to have multiple responsibilities, and I think the fact that we can step away from our civilian lives and or civilian jobs to respond when called upon is something we can be very proud of," she said.
The training the JHAT received was in accordance with Center for Disease Control decontamination protocols and Wisconsin Department of Health Services training validation guidance.