By Randall Burlingame,
104th Fighter Wing/Public Affairs
BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. – Fourteen members of the 104th Fighter Wing were activated to support Task Force Maher and help test students and school staff for COVID-19.
Task Force Maher is a joint Air and Army National Guard medical mission that established teams to help with COVID-19 testing in 12 Massachusetts school districts. Members are on standby, remaining flexible to support the community.
This is not the first time the 104FW has supported the commonwealth in response to COVID-19. Members of the 104th Medical Group were activated to work in long-term care facilities in April 2020, and members were activated a second time in December. The second activation started as long-term care facility support and turned into a vaccination mission once a vaccine was available.
Senior Master Sgt. Karla Belliveau, 104MDG superintendent of nursing services, served as the liaison officer for the task force and was responsible for communication between the task force and members of the 104FW and helping the Airmen with any problems that might arise.
She said these community support missions have shown how the Air and Army National Guard come together to make a significant impact on lives.
“Some school districts did not have the resources to conduct all the testing that was needed,” said Belliveau. “It was very natural for Governor Baker to look to the National Guard for help during this crisis, and once again, we answered the call.”
The 104FW Airmen assigned to the current mission are not all medical personnel, though some are. They have professions on base that include logistics, maintenance, public affairs and security forces.
“This activation has been an incredible opportunity for me to directly interact with the community in which I serve,” said Staff Sgt. Hanna Smith, 104FW public affairs specialist. “It has been a chance for me to operate outside my direct career field and employ new skills that not only help me grow as a leader and Guardsman but also help the children in my community continue in-person learning with their peers. That’s one of the best parts of being a Guardsman: being able to serve the community in which I live.”
Belliveau said 24,957 tests had been conducted at Air National Guard testing sites, with a total of 38,376 tests as of Nov. 21. Seven of the 14 volunteers from the 104FW are junior enlisted members.
Belliveau said helping the community directly at schools means a great deal to her, and the past two years of service have been the highlight of her career, especially because she is a teacher when she is not on orders with the Air National Guard.
“I cannot express to you how profound of an impact these last two years have had on me with the culmination of all we have done, going into schools and providing a service to protect our young people,” she said.