Austin Larson is a senior majoring in finance, as well as an Army reservist who was mobilized to New York in the latter half of his spring semester to support the coronavirus response. Thank you for your service, Austin!
I am currently serving in the United States Army Reserve with the 452 CSH (Combat Support Hospital). Towards the end of February when COVID really started taking off, members of our unit started hearing rumors that we would be mobilizing and heading to one of the “hot spot” cities. However this was all rumor at the time and no one could confirm anything. On February 29th every service member in the 452 CSH received orders to mobilize at our Milwaukee headquarters. From there, certain service members were chosen to go on missions and received additional orders. Things were constantly changing in the beginning stage of the mobilization and it was very hectic. We thought we were all mobilizing together and going to one city. What actually ended up happening is that we were split up into three groups and went to three different cities.
Initially, we flew service members from California to our Milwaukee headquarters to help with our mobilization. That turned out to be a mistake as some of the service members from California tested positive for COVID. At this time point, not all of us had even been tested for COVID due to lack of tests. Over the next two weeks, every single one of us was tested for COVID and then separated into our groups. The three groups went to New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York City.
I was chosen to go to New York, and upon hearing this news I was shocked. I didn’t think I would be going. As stated before, the unit I am in is a combat support hospital so a majority of the service members are medical personal. I, however, am a 74D which is a Chemical Biological Nuclear Specialist. Upon being chosen for the mission, I was given a briefing of what to expect once arriving. I was told that our group would be assigned to a hospital in New York and assisting Navy personal with COVID patients. I, with other service members from the Navy, would be running a check point, or screening station, before patients could enter the hospital.
As hectic as everything was before mobilization, it was actually pretty smooth once we got to New York. At this point, the Navy had been there for almost a week and had worked out most of the kinks in the operation. The Navy personnel I worked with were off of the USNS Comfort. We had our check point on the non-COVID side of the hospital. We ran a check point at the employee entrance of the hospital, and were in charge of checking all civilian employees and military members entering and leaving the hospital.
We had three tents sent up. One tent was a staging area where we would stay. While in this tent, we were in HAZMAT suits. The second tent is where we would take employees and conduct temperature checks and symptom screenings. The third tent was there to hold any employees who had a high temperature or indicated having any symptoms.
We did this six days a week, typically in 12-hour shifts. As things slowed down in early May, it switched to 8-hour shifts. When our shift would end we would be shuttled back to the hotel we stayed at. Occasionally we would get put on “hotel shift,” as we called it. We had our own section of the hotel, and at all times had two service members who checked temperatures and did symptom screenings before we entered or left the hotel. Because “hotel shift” didn’t require a HAZMAT suit, just a mask and gloves, anytime you got put on this shift was something to celebrate, in a way. I was pulled off my duty on May 19th and recently returned to Wisconsin.
Completing my spring semester at UWM was difficult, but all of my professors were extremely helpful and understanding of my situation. I was able to finish a majority of my homework for most of my classes before leaving for New York. It obviously helped that all classes were switched to an online setting so I could keep up with lectures. Sundays were my designated off days, so every Sunday I dedicated a majority of my day to studying. I’m now enrolled in online summer courses. I’ve had it set in my mind that I will graduate in December, and I’m not going to let this pandemic change that.