Although more and more Americans are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, there are a number of military medical professionals are still being mobilized to augmenting hospitals across the nation that continue to have a high number of COVID-19 patients.
Maj. Catherine A. Celeski, an Army Reserve critical care nurse from San Antonio, Texas, is completing an 87-day mobilization with the Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force 328-1 assisting the Yuma Regional Medical Center in Yuma, Arizona. Assets like UAMTF 328-1 demonstrate, U.S. Northern Command’s commitment to provide flexible Department of Defense support for the whole-of-government COVID-19 response.
“These patients (COVID-19) are some of the most acutely ill patients I have cared for in my career,” said Celeski, discussing her mission experience.
“It has been physically and mentally challenging. What keeps me going, is all the amazing nurses who are doing the same work that I am doing. These patients are a team effort and I have had the honor of working with some awesome, dedicated nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors that have intervened at the highest level to prolong the lives of these patients.”
Celeski brought experience in COVID care from her civilian position as a registered nurse with the Veterans Affairs medical system in San Antonio.
“After caring for veterans in the Audie Murphy VA, COVID ICU, in San Antonio, I had experienced the pandemic firsthand,” shared Celeski. “I contracted COVID in October 2020 and infected my son and husband. I think with caring for Veterans and then contracting COVID, I have the skills and experience to assist this national effort and provide relief to American people.”
Originally from McHenry, Illinois, Celeski began her military career in 1989. She received her commission after completing the North Illinois University ROTC program, entering active duty as an Army Nurse. Her first deployment was during Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990.
“I had been in the military less than a year and was assigned to the 5th Mobile Army Support Hospital to deploy during Desert Shield and Storm. I was on ground in Saudi Arabia and later, during the ground war, I was in Iraq.”
Celeski married her husband Gregory in 1995, and in 1997 she left the military to focus on raising her newborn son, Justin.
Years later, while working for the Veterans Administration at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, Celeski decided to return to service.
“I felt the pull to rejoin the military. Even after my 16-year break in service, I felt the connection to the Veterans and wanted to serve as an Army Nurse again, she shared. “It is an honor to serve those Soldiers who sacrificed so much of themselves during their military career. I also wanted to reconnect with other Army Nurses and feel that direct connection to military nursing again.”
So, in 2014, she recommissioned in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“Being a part of the Army Reserve is a way I could contribute to the total medical force. The Reserve has about two thirds of all the medical professionals in the Army,” explained Celeski. “After a 16-year break in service, I was able to join again and feel the camaraderie I missed and bring all my skills from the civilian job back to the Army team,” said Celeski.
As she prepares to return to her civilian career as an RN Care Manager at the North Central Federal Clinic, Celeski offers some thoughts for all health care works engaged in the fight against COVID-19.
“Stay strong and stay resilient. I have hope that the immunization brings a slowing of the spread and keeps us safe in our mission to care for these patients of the pandemic.”