PHOENIX – The Arizona National Guard is partnering with its active-duty counterparts from the 56th Medical Group at Luke Air Force Base, Glendale, and the 355th Medical Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, to vaccinate active duty members, dependents, Department of Defense civilians and military retirees.
Army Col. Tom Leeper, Arizona National Guard’s state surgeon, 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, and officer in charge of infection prevention. “We [the National Guard] can help step up and support them in areas they need.”
Airmen from the 161st MDG, who don’t always have the opportunity to work alongside active-duty service members, are seeing a different way of doing things and building relationships that will benefit both components.
“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,” said Bunker.
The Guard was scheduled to be at Luke for a few weeks to support the mass vaccination effort. But Bunker said that due to the joint team’s success, Guard members have been asked to stay at least another month.
Senior Master Sgt. Jessica Munoz-Stewart, 162nd Medical Group superintendent, 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,” said Munoz-Stewart. “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.”
The Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen from the Guard are not the only ones benefiting from this military partnership; it's the first time many of the active-duty Airmenhave worked with 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. “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.”
The joint COVID-19 teams at Luke AFB and Davis-Monthan AFB have vaccinated an average of 200 people a day and a total of more than 5,000 vaccinations.