Thirty-five Army Reserve Medical Command Soldiers have mobilized to support COVID isolation and quarantine missions in Texas and New Mexico.
The team from Detachment 2 of the 7407th Troop Medical Clinic arrived at Ft. Bliss, Texas in November to augment the 169th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion of the Kansas National Guard to support two sites set up by the 5th Armored Division to care for Soldiers and minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“It’s a customer service-based mission for the most part,” explains Staff Sgt. Daniel Buchholtz, a 68W, combat medic. Buchholtz, traditionally a police officer with the city of Missoula, Montana, is serving as the First Sergeant of the 7407th TMC. “You are taking care of Soldiers, trying to get them back into their jobs.”
Soldiers that have been exposed to the virus are quarantined at Forward Operating Base Westbrook, near McGregor Range, New Mexico. Soldiers that are confirmed carriers of the virus, experiencing minimal or no symptoms, are isolated at West Fort Bliss. The sites monitor up to 150 Soldiers daily.
Caring for Soldiers in a pandemic is a new mission for the team of medical warriors, and Buchholtz believes their work is important to future operations.
“COVID is here right now. It could be something else taking COVID’s place as some point. So, what we build right now for standard operating procedures and protocols is going to be used in the future.”
Capt. Mike Poucher, a postal service worker from Terry, Montana, is the commander of the mission.
“We’re kind of on the front lines of everything, creating the standard. Eventually COVID won’t be here anymore but this is setting the precedence for future pandemics and diseases. So it’s important work.”
Poucher describes his day to day activities as “putting out fires” as he assures everything runs smoothly, monitors morale, and takes care of his team as they care for others.
“We’re just trying to make sure the Soldiers passing through are medically cleared and COVID free and can go home and be with their families.”
1st Lt. Nicole Faoro, traditionally a labor and delivery nurse at Parkview Medical Center in her home of Pueblo, Colorado, is serving on her first mobilization as a 66H, medical surgical nurse.
She is assigned to one of two teams that provide around the clock medical care at the Westbrook site.
“The mission is an opportunity to gain nursing experience in a different environment, and get real life Army experience,” she explained.
Because of regular contact with Soldiers that test positive for COVID-19, many of the 7407th medical providers have themselves spent time in quarantine or isolation, directly experiencing what their patients do while in their care.
Faoro took lessons from her own quarantine to adjust how she cares for her patients.
“Being in the quarantine tent, you have limited interaction except for the other Soldiers you are quarantined with. I saw only two to four different medical personnel daily,” she explained. “I have come to really appreciate how important it is for me to be friendly and happy when doing my temperature checks and sick call with Soldiers in quarantine now. I try to chit chat with those Soldiers who want to talk and need some cheering up.”
Staff Sgt. Triston Mihm, a 68W combat medic from Helena, Montana, works at the isolation site on West Fort Bliss as the senior medic, providing care, training, and oversite. He tested positive for COVID-19 in early January and spent some time in the isolation site barracks that he regularly monitors during his daily duties while mobilized.
Mihm experienced firsthand the improvements to living conditions and policies that his team has influenced and was thankful for those changes when he was in isolation.
“A lot of the changes (established by the 7407th) are to the privileges that are given,” said Mihm. Workout sites, a makeshift track, and daily visits by a physician’s assistant are part of the improvements.
It is all part of making the Soldiers more comfortable says Mihm.
“It’s miles ahead of where it was when we took over in December. Though COVID exposure needs to be controlled, and there is a restriction of movement, you shouldn’t be treated like a prisoner. You should be able to go outside and go for a walk and feel better, instead of just being cooped up in a room your entire stay,” he explained.
Mihm is proud of the attentiveness and compassion his team has shown to the fellow Soldiers. A car salesman in Helena, Montana in his civilian career, he has found his employer to be very supportive of his mobilization and he strives to apply the same level of customer service he provides in his civilian job to the mission.
“Even small actions that you can take can significantly improve people’s livelihood while they are here. There is a lot of blended experience we have here in this Reserve unit pieced together and coming from the heartbeat of America to improve what going on here in this active duty setting,” he shared.
Mihm said the 7407th’s mission is scheduled until the fall of 2021.
“It’s an exciting mission, being able to help people when they’re not feeling well and learn a lot about COVID; and being at the forefront of this global pandemic is definitely something very interesting and unique.”