NEWS | March 17, 2021

Oklahoma National Guard assists with COVID-19 vaccinations

By Sgt. Jordan Sivayavirojna

The Oklahoma National Guard, alongside the Oklahoma State Department of Health, continues their mission to support Oklahoma’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19 with vaccine support. As the response to COVID-19 progresses, the Oklahoma National Guard’s mission and focus changes to better serve the community.

“Currently 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 provide support for 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 currently activated throughout the state in support of 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.”

Amongst the many Guardsmen working to help the community, some have been on this mission from the very beginning. Spc. Eneisi Lopez, a medic with 160th Headquarters Battalion, 45th Field Artillery Brigade in Chandler, Oklahoma, has supported this mission since March of 2020.

“We are supposed to administer 2,400 vaccines today,” Lopez said during a vaccine event February 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 over time, 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.”

Administration of the vaccines is just one of many challenges the Oklahoma National Guard has faced in the dawn of the new decade. On top of a global pandemic, Oklahoma Guardsmen have also provided civil security support during severe winter storms, continued to deploy overseas, all while maintaining their training and standards in order to be ready in a moment’s notice.