NEW YORK — It’s not every day you get to be part of a phone call with the president and defense secretary, but in these uncertain times, anything is possible.
Spc. Samuel Shepard has been learning that quickly. As a medic, the 25-year-old is one of 270 soldiers from Fort Hood who deployed to New York City, the epicenter of America’s COVID-19 crisis. He and fellow Soldiers assigned to the 9th Hospital Center, 1st Medical Brigade, are just some of the troops who arrived in the hard-hit city last week to support the Army Corps of Engineers, police and other first responders on the front lines of the pandemic.
Shepard’s unit has pulled some 15-hour days to help build a temporary medical station at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center in Manhattan. DOD remains in close coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is the lead federal agency in the response, to determine how the military could support additional requests for assistance.
Shepard was scouting potential field hospital sites in case they got such a request when he was told to do something he would never forget: President Donald J. Trump and Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper were holding a conference call with service members and their families, and he was asked to give an update on his unit’s mission.
“Seventy-two hours after we left, we were on ground, helping to build the first 1,000 beds and all the patient care and hygiene systems and the staff care and hygiene systems, which were our top priorities,’’ Shepard told the president. “We are ready and willing to do whatever you ask to win this fight, and we will win. That’s just what we do.’’
Shepard said it was a pretty cool task, despite the pressure of knowing about 1,000 people were on the call.
“It was a great experience to get to update the president on everything that was going on,’’ he said. “When I was in college, I did an internship with the meteorologist at our local TV station, so I was kind of used to talking in front of people.’’
Shepard joined the Army as a combat medic three years ago after graduating from college. He was recently selected to attend flight school to become a helicopter pilot, but he’s not sure if that will get put on hold as the coronavirus crisis continues.
For now, he’s focused on the mission at hand – helping reduce pressure on the New York medical system. While the 15-hour days have slowed down a bit, Shepard knows it’s far from over, but he and his unit are prepared for whatever comes their way.
“We have all our people here, so we’re able to spread the load,’’ Shepard said. ‘’We’re building our battle rhythm as we go along.’’
More than 186,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with the virus that has swept the globe. More than 3,600 had died from COVID-19 as of April 1.