OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma National Guard is supporting Oklahoma’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19, shifting its mission and focus to serve the community better.
“We are still doing testing, contact tracing and vaccine delivery,” said Col. Robert Walter, the Joint Task Force commander for the Oklahoma National Guard. “Right now, we are focusing on administering the vaccine to the 11 health regions across the state, as well as the five separate shot teams we can send out to assist the Oklahoma State Department of Health.”
These Oklahoma National Guard’s vaccine strike teams assist OSDH. Each team includes five enlisted Guardsmen, three National Guard medics and one medical administrator and a nurse, who also serves as the team’s officer in charge. The teams operate small vaccine point of distribution sites (PODS) independently or augment larger health department PODS.
“Teams will be a support multiplier for OSDH to serve hotspots, specific populations and agencies,” said Col. Yolanda Murray, the Joint Task Force medical planner. “Teams can serve across the state to serve where and when needs arise without interrupting day-to-day operations at regional health districts.”
More than 150 Soldiers and Airmen are activated throughout the state for the COVID-19 mission.
“The regions are set up at all four corners of the state and everything in between,” Walter said. “We have at least 10 Guardsmen at the nine regions across Oklahoma and have two additional teams assisting the health department in Oklahoma County and Tulsa County.”
Some members of the Guard have been on this mission from the beginning. Spc. Eneisi Lopez, a medic with 160th Headquarters Battalion, 45th Field Artillery Brigade in Chandler, has worked on the pandemic response effort since March 2020.
“We are supposed to administer 2,400 vaccines today,” Lopez said during a vaccination event on Feb. 25. “It helps the Oklahoma National Guard build a relationship with the community – that’s part of our job.”
The Oklahoma National Guard’s mission is not only overseas but within the communities where its members live. As the mission evolves, the Oklahoma National Guard remains flexible and ready to assist.
“I would anticipate the Guard participation will remain high for a while,” Walter said. “As more vaccines become available and the population that has been vaccinated grows, our need for vaccination teams will taper off and we will begin business as usual in the state.”