FORT IRWIN, Calif. – Col. Richard Hopkins retired from the Army Reserves in 2015 after a long career serving in the National Guard and the Army Reserves.
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he wanted to help in any way he could.
He volunteered under the Army’s COVID-19 Retiree Recall Program to return to service as the COVID-19 response coordinator for Weed Army Community Hospital and Fort Irwin, Calif.
“You’re sitting at home in lockdown wishing you could help in some way, but can’t because you don’t have a provider skillset,” Hopkins, a Warrenton, Mo., resident said. “But then the retiree recall opened the door to others with organizational and programmatic skills.”
Hopkins started his career as a Medical Service Corps officer in the late 1980s. He deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield with the 92nd Medical Battalion, dual-hatted as the headquarters commander and battalion administration officer.
Upon graduating law school, he applied and was accepted to the U.S. Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps in 1992. Hopkins served in multiple judge advocate positions with infantry, aviation, sustainment, and transportation units.
In 2011, he deployed to Iraq as the staff judge advocate for 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command and as the director of the Joint Base Balad legal office.
His civilian career also continued to progress where he served as the program manager for global patient movement at U.S. Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
After retiring from the military, he accepted a job as an administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration, where he is currently employed.
As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, Hopkins learned about the U.S. Army Human Resources Command voluntary retiree recall to support the COVID-19 response mission.
He spoke to his wife about the possibility of returning to military duty.
“She said if there was ever a time to go back into the military, it would be to support the COVID response,” Hopkins explained.
With support from his family, Hopkins contacted HRC where his medical background and program manager experience brought him to Weed ACH.
Col. Nancy Parson, the Weed ACH commander, said Hopkins integrated well into the unit and its mission.
“Col. Hopkins is highly skilled in building teams and accomplishing the mission,” she said. “He was able to quickly adapt to the important mission of the National Training Center and collaborate with all units to successfully complete numerous COVID-19 vaccine events, while ensuring little impact to the training rotations.”
In his role as the COVID response coordinator, Hopkins works with the hospital’s emergency manager, the Department of Preventive Medicine, and the Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security section to plan, staff, and execute COVID-19 vaccine events.
“I work with a lot of great people,” Hopkins said. “They’ve been very willing to give of their own time or re-prioritize their day-to-day schedules in order to execute these vaccination events successfully.”
Hopkins, and other members of the Weed ACH staff, monitor the inventory of the COVID-19 vaccine to estimate projected usage to ensure sufficient stock for upcoming events. They also plan which staff members will support the vaccination programs and confirm all the appropriate equipment is available in sufficient quantity.
Since Hopkins joined the team in April, Weed ACH has hosted more than 50 events to vaccinate the Fort Irwin community.
Parson said she has confidence that Hopkins is handling the mission.
“He coordinated with the NTC Surgeon Cell, Public Health Department, and all other commands on post,” Parson said. “Col. Hopkins kept me updated while ensuring the hospital team always supported the mission of the National Training Center, with a focus on safety of the force through vaccinations.”
Hopkins’ time with Weed ACH will end in October as he transitions back to his family and civilian job.
“I thought I was too young to be cut loose when I hit my mandatory retirement date at age 52, and at age 58, I found that I still have something to offer,” Hopkins said.
For Hopkins, serving in the COVID-19 response mission closed a loop for him, he said.
“I started out in the Medical Service Corps and 36 years later I’m wrapping things up with a medical mission,” he said. “I think that’s pretty cool.”