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Ky. Air Guardsmen leave civilian jobs in support of COVID-19

Lt. Col. Kevin Howard, a physician at the Hershel Woody Williams VA Medical Center, left his civilian employment to serve as the 123rd Medical Group Detachment 1 commander at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., April 13, 2020. Howard is currently working at an alternate care facility here, designed to assist patients recovering from COVID-19 should area hospitals reach capacity. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Chloe Ochs)

Lt. Col. Kevin Howard, a physician at the Hershel Woody Williams VA Medical Center, left his civilian employment to serve as the 123rd Medical Group Detachment 1 commander at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., April 13, 2020. Howard is currently working at an alternate care facility here, designed to assist patients recovering from COVID-19 should area hospitals reach capacity. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Chloe Ochs)

Airman 1st Class Elijah Lamastus, an emergency medical technician at the Bowling Green Medical Center, left his civilian employment to serve as an aerospace medical technician for the 123rd Medical Group Detachment 1 at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., April 13, 2020. Lamastus is currently working at an alternate care facility here. The facility is designed to assist patients recovering from COVID-19 should area hospitals reach capacity. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Chloe Ochs)

Airman 1st Class Elijah Lamastus, an emergency medical technician at the Bowling Green Medical Center, left his civilian employment to serve as an aerospace medical technician for the 123rd Medical Group Detachment 1 at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., April 13, 2020. Lamastus is currently working at an alternate care facility here. The facility is designed to assist patients recovering from COVID-19 should area hospitals reach capacity. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Chloe Ochs)

Maj. Anthony Gardner, a clinical nurse manager at the Louisville VA Medical Center, left his civilian employment to serve as the chief nurse for the 123rd Medical Group Detachment 1 at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., April 13, 2020. Gardner is currently working at an alternate care facility here. The facility is designed to assist patients recovering from COVID-19 should area hospitals reach capacity. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Chloe Ochs)

Maj. Anthony Gardner, a clinical nurse manager at the Louisville VA Medical Center, left his civilian employment to serve as the chief nurse for the 123rd Medical Group Detachment 1 at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., April 13, 2020. Gardner is currently working at an alternate care facility here. The facility is designed to assist patients recovering from COVID-19 should area hospitals reach capacity. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Chloe Ochs)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Over the past week, several Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard left their civilian employment in support of COVID-19 relief operations at an alternate care facility set up in the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center here.

During the current COVID-19 crisis, pulling essential workers out of their civilian work environments to aid in National Guard mission sets has the potential to be very taxing on certain employers, like that of 22-year old Elijah Lamastus.

Airman 1st Class Lamastus is an emergency medical technician for the Bowling Green Medical Center by day, while balancing his secondary career as an aerospace medical technician for the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Medical Group Detachment 1.

“As an EMT, every day I’m on a unit truck," Lamastus said. "We basically take care of elderly patients who have just undergone surgery and are going back to the nursing home to recover from that. Sometimes, we’ll go on 911 runs if the emergency side is busy; we’ll help them out.

“I was transparent with my employer at the medical center from the very beginning, letting them know that the Guard might get tasked to respond to the pandemic, and they were very understanding. As soon as I get off orders, I’m going right back to work.”

Lt. Col. Kevin Howard currently serves as the 123rd Medical Group Detachment 1 commander, but that’s only his part-time job. Howard’s primary occupation is working at the Hershel Woody Williams Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia, as a physician in a preoperative clinic.

“We medically optimize patients for surgery,” Howard said. “Patients that are going to have procedures done, we see them and make sure their medicines are good, make sure there are no health risks for them to go into surgery. We risk-stratify too. So, if someone has heart problems, we’ll look at them and see when their last stress test was, look at their EKGs, and make sure to minimize the risk of them undergoing surgery.”

Sometimes it can be a struggle for military members to leave their civilian jobs to respond for the Guard. This wasn’t a problem for Howard at the VA though, and it never has been.

“The administrative officer in the Department of Medicine, where I work, was very good about getting me out the door as smoothly as possible for the Guard’s COVID-19 relief operations,” Howard continued. “My employer at the VA has always been excellent when it comes to military leave. Last year, I deployed to Djibouti and, again, (the VA was) very understanding, very cool, and did everything they could to get me out the door.

“The hospital I work with is consistently rated as one of the best places to work in the VA. I couldn’t ask for a better employer as far as assisting me with military leave. It’s never been an issue.”