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Military medical teams stage to support Navajo Nation at Kirtland waypoint

Service members receive a briefing.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John F. King, Task Force 51 commanding general, provides a mission brief to service members, Dec. 17, 2020, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. During a multi-service operation, the U.S. Army North’s Task Force 51 and U.S. Navy medical personnel provided support to the Navajo Nation in response COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ireland Summers)

Service members prepare for an operation.

U.S. Army Sgt. Tylor Schofield, 258th Human Resources Company human resources sergeant, left, Staff. Sgt. Pedro Herrera, 551st Medical Company logistics noncommissioned officer in charge, center, and Maj. Gen. Antonnio Bonnette, 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) operation contract officer, prepare to distribute personal protective equipment to service members, Dec. 17, 2020, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ireland Summers)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

The Navajo Nation has been grappling with COVID-19 since the virus hit the United States in March. Team Kirtland has provided support through several volunteer capacities, collecting and coordinating donations, and now, at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense is supporting the Navajo Nation with military medical personnel at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services.

U.S. Army North’s Task Force 51 is in the process of providing U.S. Navy medical personnel to augment Indian Health System facilities on the Nation. Kirtland Air Force Base served as a waypoint for the team of Soldiers conducting throughput, and Sailors preparing to integrate with IHS providers. The Navy is providing approximately 25 military medical personnel in four Rural Rapid Response Teams.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John F. King, the commanding general of Task Force 51, outlined the operation.

“At the request of the director of Health and Human Services, coordinated through [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the DoD, we have been tasked to come in and provide support for the Navajo Nation in their response to COVID-19,” Maj. Gen. King said. “We’re proving medical providers, nurses and respiratory techs, and integrating them into two hospitals at Chinle and Shiprock.”

The Task Force commander was grateful for support from Team Kirtland and lauded the joint-service effort.

“The base has been incredibly gracious to allow all of us to have access to help bring our Sailors here, to get them properly briefed and integrated,” King said. “This is definitely a multi-component, multi-service operation.”

Sailors and members of TF51 used Kirtland AFB and Albuquerque for staging Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. Teams received briefings and equipment, before moving west to the Navajo Nation.

U.S. Navy Ensign Stephanie Buice, an intensive care unit nurse who began treating COVID patients as a civilian nurse prior to commissioning in March, has also been treating COVID patients at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Virginia.  Between briefings Thursday, she said help was on the way.

“I expect the staff to be tired and overwhelmed,” Buice said. “I hope that when we get in there, we can provide some relief to them.”