Flexibility is key for California Guard medical strike team

Capt. Patrick McGar, 144th Fighter Wing clinical nurse, administers a COVID-19 test at a drive-thru testing site in Indio, Calif. McGar and his medical strike team administered tests from April 1 to May 20, averaging 600 tests per day. (National Guard photograph by Staff Sgt. Samuel Marchini)

Capt. Patrick McGar, a drill status Guardsmen and 144th Medical Group Detachment clinical nurse, had to adapt repeatedly as mission requirements changed while he was serving as a member of a COVID-19 medical strike team, which provided support to several Southern California cities affected by the novel coronavirus, from April to July.

“Semper Gumby, always flexible. That’s a characteristic you have to have to be successful,” said McGar. “You’ve got to have that mental flexibility — to be able to pivot at a moment’s notice towards a new mission or a change in mission.”

During McGar’s three-month temporary duty assignment, he and the medical strike team experienced several pivots during their mission. They initially were tasked to coordinate and set up a federal medical station in Indio, Calif. Their mission then changed to providing care to patients from a Riverside nursing facility who were transferred to the federal medical station after their facility became dangerously understaffed.

Capt. Patrick McGar (second from the left) stands with his fellow 144th Fighter Wing medical strike team members at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing site in Indio, Calif. The medical strike team administered tests from April 1 to May 20, with an average of 600 tests per day for Riverside County residents. (Photograph courtesy of Capt. Patrick McGar)

Shortly after that, the need for more COVID-19 testing had McGar and the medical strike tasked with setting up a COVID-19 testing site where he and his team administered up to 600 tests each day, significantly surpassing the number of medically administered tests that other sites were doing. Finally, the call for support at hospitals in Brawley and El Centro to treat intensive care unit patients came the last change in the mission that the team faced.

“Our mission has changed several times during this deployment. Without the exceptional effort and flexibility of the Airmen and the leadership of the [non-commissioned officers] and the officers, we wouldn’t have been successful,” said McGar.

Now that McGar’s TDY is over and he has completed the required mandatory quarantine before he returns to his Modesto home, he has a message to those continuing the medical support mission: “I just want to encourage my fellow Airmen that are continuing the mission to be diligent and to support each other as they have this whole time.”

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