Tech Family members serve with military on front lines of Covid-19 battle
At least two members of the Tech Family are on the front lines of the fight with Covid-19, Tech Leadership Council (TLC) member and freshman biology major Sabrina Birmingham with the Louisiana National Guard, and assistant professor in Tech’s Division of Nursing Yolanda Hoof with the Army Reserves.
Birmingham, 19, is attached to the 527 HHC (Headquarters and Headquarters Company) based in Ruston; she is one of two people with the unit stationed at Camp Beauregard in Pineville and working at the Rapides Parish Coliseum testing site about 10 minutes away in Alexandria. Some of her unit’s medical personnel were activated about two weeks ago.
“It seems much longer,” Birmingham said. “It’s been wild. We screen people to see if they’re going to be tested or we actually test them; I’m the person sticking the swab up your nose.
“Honestly, we’ve been taking very good precautions,” she said. “We have on surgical gowns, two layers of gloves, a mask, and a facial plate. Our only worry is there’s such a shortage on masks. We have to keep the same mask for two weeks; I keep mine in a biohazard bag when I’m not wearing it.”
Hoof’s unit is being mobilized in Bossier City, awaiting location and duty assignments. As a registered nurse, she will be performing nursing duties and supervising other medical soldiers. Her hometown is Minden, but she has family in Ruston and Texas and lives with her husband in Junction City, Arkansas.
“It’s difficult for us all because we don’t know what, where, or how long this mobilization will be; it could be up to two years, I have no idea,” she said. “And the nature of the mission is very stressful because of the high risk of possible contamination.
Hoof started at Tech as an adjunct professor in 2012 and received a full-time position in 2013, which she had until she was deployed overseas from March 2017 until February 2018. She worked was Director of Nursing at South Arkansas Community College for more than a year after her return but “wanted to come back to Tech for good!” she said, and got the chance in December.
She’s been a member of the Reserve since spring 1992.
Birmingham has been working in the Alexandria testing center on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The rest of her time is at the Camp resting, preparing her uniform for the next day, doing homework, and going to class online. She’s taking chemistry, history, a communications class, and TLC.
“I love that her experiences when shared with other first-year students help educate her peers on the different ways to lead,” said Dean of Student Services and Academic Support Stacy Gilbert, also the TLC advisor. “I think our traditional-aged students are insulated from a lot of things, and her sharing experiences on the front lines of this virus helps them keep perspective on their own situations.”
“Part of leadership is learning how to react when things don’t go how they’re supposed to go,” Birmingham said. “We as a nation or I guess world haven’t experienced this in a while. We don’t know exactly ‘how to do it’ yet. You just have to go on with it and try to make things better, make wise decisions, just continue working at it.”
Birmingham enjoyed ROTC in high school at Parkway in Bossier City and joined the Guard as a senior to earn money for college and to get experience as a combat medic “to give me an idea if I wanted to continue in this field,” she said. She went through basic training in Oklahoma then advanced training in San Antonio her first six months after high school graduation, then worked in a pretzel shop and shadowed her doctor last spring before beginning her freshman year of college a year removed from being a high school senior.
The pandemic and her role in it has convinced her she made the right career choice. Her family wants her home – “My mom’s worried; I’m ‘the baby’ — but Birmingham is where she wants to be.
“I’ve been wanting to do this the whole time,” she said. “I love helping people and know for sure now that I belong in the medical field. And I’m getting paid for it, for helping these people I love.”
For us to help them in the fight, both Birmingham and Hoof have suggestions.
“Wash your hands and wear a mask of some sort; save the (H95) masks for people who are at the hospitals,” Birmingham said. “Just follow what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines are.”
“Stay at home,” Hoof said, “remember social distancing, and wash, wash, wash your hands.”