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Public Health on the front lines of the invisible enemy

A sign shows the way to the 2nd Medical Group public health unit at Barksdale Air Force Base, La, May 29, 2020. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman)

A sign shows the way to the 2nd Medical Group public health unit at Barksdale Air Force Base, La, May 29, 2020. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --

It’s often said that adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

Throughout the undeniable adversity the world has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the character of the Airmen of the 2nd Medical Group public health unit has shown through.

“COVID-19 had taken the majority of my focus from my routine tasks,” said Senior Airman Brennen E. Johncock, 2nd MDG communicable disease program manager. “I am not discouraged by this. This is a great opportunity to learn and show how public health supports the mission.”

Normally, public health supports the Airmen and mission of Barksdale by mitigating the spread of infectious disease, supporting and treating individuals with STD’s and conducting routine food and sanitation inspections to ensure food safety.

However, when Barksdale was thrown into the new reality of life during COVID, a unique balance had to be met between continuing normal duties and dealing with the new public health threat.

“We receive new information constantly and that can be very exhausting,” Johncock said. “Change is stressful, but it’s part of the job. We may have to contact and interview numerous patients, while reviewing new guidance from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Defense. It takes a lot of man hours to make this possible.”

On top of their normal and additional duties, public health increased their routine food and sanitation inspections around the base, checking for health code violations around various base locations such as the commissary, base exchange and dining facility.

“We are out here to make sure the proper protocol and procedures are being followed, so we can prevent any exposure risks,” said Ryan DeWitt, 2nd MDG public health specialist. “We are going out daily as opposed to weekly or monthly, to ensure we are monitoring every single facility to make sure they’re in compliance.”

While the mitigation of the virus is continuously of paramount importance, the 2nd MDG public health Airmen are gradually transitioning back into normal operations.

“We’ve had to put the brakes on some of our big projects because the spread COVID-19 was so abrupt,” Johncock said. “Even though our resources are geared towards COVID-19, we will transition back into our sections like before and continue to press on, without neglecting co.”

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the importance of public health has been amplified and it’s been noticed by those most closely associated with the job.

“It definitely changes the way you look at your work,” DeWitt said. “What we do is important, it’s making a difference and even making history.”

Although the past few months have been a trying time at Barksdale and across the world, Barksdales public health unit has shown their true spirit in the face of this enemy.

“We will always continue to do what is needed to support the mission because people depend on us to do our job well,” Johncock said. “Deterring casualties to fight another day is our success story.”