Oregon National Guard Withdraws Troops from State Hospitals

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steph Sawyer
  • 142nd Wing

In late August of this year, over 300 Oregon Air Guardsmen from the Portland Air National Guard Base’s 142nd Wing were rapidly mobilized in a record-setting effort to provide emergency support to Oregon’s hospitals during a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

From August to December 2021, Joint Task Force (JTF) Reassurance sent over 1,500 Oregon Air and Army National Guardsmen to work in over 20 hospitals across the state, many of which were located in the Portland metro area. 

To ease the strain on hospital staff , military personnel worked over 300,000 total hours in non-clinical support roles over the course of nearly four months. Many of the tasks carried out by service members included turning, sitting with, and transporting patients, screening visitors and patients at hospital access points, aiding hospital security, cleaning, as well as preparing and delivering meals. 

142nd Wing historian, Lt. Col. Dawn Choy, was the deputy officer in charge of 150 military staff members at Providence Portland Medical Center from late August to late November. In addition to taking care of and managing her team, she worked directly with hospital staff, sitting with patients as well as preparing and delivering meals. 

“Working alongside hospital staff was such a rewarding experience,” said Choy. “We knew they work hard and attend to patients everyday, but I don't think many of us truly understood what that meant in the real sense of being a caregiver to anyone at any time.” 

142nd airfield management specialist, Senior Airman Yingying Li, worked as a hospital access monitor at Providence St. Vincent in Portland from September to mid-December. Her job entailed screening patients and visitors for symptoms to COVID-19 and ensuring safety protocols were being followed. 

The most rewarding aspect of her role in this mission, says Li, was having a direct hand in helping patients and hospital staff in a critical time of need. 

The efforts of Guardsmen during this time ensured a safe and secure hospital environment, enabling medical professionals to provide the highest and most expeditious patient care possible. 

Like many taskings throughout the pandemic, this differed from a typical mission, if there is such a thing. Never before had the National Guard been called up to supplement staffing in hospitals. There was a lot servicemembers didn’t know going in. 

Firstly, this mission was very short notice. Service members were notified less than a week before mass mobilization would be underway and they didn’t know where in the state they would be sent, what they would be doing, or how long they would be there.

Service members left their civilian jobs, and for some, their homes and families to work in hospitals across the state.

“This mobilization presented a lot of challenges for many of us,” said Choy. “For my family, being a dual-military household with little kids, we had to be very creative to make this activation work.” 

Choy’s husband was already activated for a COVID-19 response mission at this time, which presented unique challenges for the family. Luckily, the Choy’s extended family were able to help with childcare. 

“I won't say this was an easy task, but being resilient and resourceful, we made it work the best we could using all the resources we had available,” said Choy. “I do have to thank our family for their never ending support.”

This month, the Oregon National Guard began its drawdown, returning Guard members to their families and civilian careers as the strain on state hospitals has steadily declined over the past several months.

A small contingent of the Joint Task Force staff will be continuing to support the mission up to February 28th to continue administrative closeout.