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104th FW supports COVID-19 testing task force

Airmen and Soldiers with the Massachusetts National Guard pose for a photo prior to conducting COVID-19 testing Nov. 18, 2021, in the Northampton, Massachusetts school district. The Massachusetts National Guard was activated in mid-October to augment COVID-19 testing personnel in school districts across the state.(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Hanna Smith)

Airmen and Soldiers with the Massachusetts National Guard pose for a photo prior to conducting COVID-19 testing Nov. 18, 2021, in the Northampton, Massachusetts school district. The Massachusetts National Guard was activated in mid-October to augment COVID-19 testing personnel in school districts across the state.(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Hanna Smith)

Airman 1st Class Tenzin Dakar, an aerospace medical technician with the 104th Medical Group, and Spc. Michael Major, a unit supply specialist with the 125 Quarter Master Company, overlook a pool testing tube prior to conducting COVID-19 testing Nov. 17, 2021, in the Northampton, Massachusetts, school district. The Massachusetts National Guard was activated in mid-October to augment COVID-19 testing personnel in school districts across the state.(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Hanna Smith)

Airman 1st Class Tenzin Dakar, an aerospace medical technician with the 104th Medical Group, and Spc. Michael Major, a unit supply specialist with the 125 Quarter Master Company, overlook a pool testing tube prior to conducting COVID-19 testing Nov. 17, 2021, in the Northampton, Massachusetts, school district. The Massachusetts National Guard was activated in mid-October to augment COVID-19 testing personnel in school districts across the state.(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Hanna Smith)

BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, MASSACHUSETTS --

Fourteen members of the 104th Fighter Wing were activated to support Task Force Maher starting Oct. 12, 2021, throughout the state of Massachusetts.

Task Force Maher is a joint Air and Army National Guard medical mission that established teams to help with COVID-19 testing of students and staff in 12 Massachusetts school districts. Members are currently on standby and remaining flexible to ensure support of 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 need of medical support in April 2020, and members were activated a second time in December 2020. 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 flow between the task force and members of the 104FW, as well as 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 huge 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.

Staff Sgt. Hanna Smith, 104FW public affairs specialist, said that the experience has helped her grow as an individual while also giving her a chance to aid her community.

“This activation has been an incredible opportunity for me to directly interact with the community in which I serve,” said Smith. “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.”

According to information provided by Belliveau, 24,957 tests have been conducted at Air National Guard testing sites and 38,376 total tests have been conducted as of Nov. 21. She went on to say that seven of the 14 volunteers from the 104FW are junior enlisted members.

Belliveau said that being able to help the community directly at schools means a great deal to her and that the last 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,” said Belliveau. "This wasn't training, but rather finally being given the opportunity to do the job that the military has trained me for in direct service to the people of Massachusetts."