An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

1AF’s 64th Air Expeditionary Group Airmen support COVID-19 response across FEMA Regions 5-10

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jonathan F. “Trout” Austin, Deputy Commander, 64th Air Expeditionary Group

Airmen managed by First Air Force (Air Forces Northern)’s 64th Air Expeditionary Group (AEG) are supporting Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) vaccination operations across FEMA Regions 5-10 that includes 30 states, four territories and the Republic of Marshall Islands. 

“To date, Airmen from the 64th AEG distributed almost 748,000  vaccinations, and I couldn’t be more pleased with their tenacious efforts supporting the whole-of-government effort,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander, 1AF (AFNORTH).  

The 64th AEG, commanded by Col. David Vanderburg, provides administrative support for the 800 Air Force personnel assigned to five Community Vaccination Centers (CVC). This includes the 64th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron (EMDOS) located in Houston, Texas; Detachment 1 located in Detroit, Mich.; Detachment 2 located in Gary, Ind.; and Detachment 3 located in Minneapolis, Minn. Detachment 4 located in Grand Rapids, Mich., just completed its military deployment. The site is still being run by civil authorities. 

To operate these units, Air Force personnel from more than 30 Air Force installations cover all aspects of CVC site operations from biohazard storage and disposal, supply delivery management, customer-service processing, vaccinations, post-vaccine monitoring and any first-aid response needed.  In addition, they operate in various conditions from outdoor tented drive through facilities to indoor walk-in venues.

“A story about the unit wouldn’t be complete without highlighting the accomplishments of what these great Airmen are doing every day to help save lives and return our country to normal,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan F. “Trout” Austin, deputy commander, 64th AEG.

The 64 EMDOS’s, 1st Lt. Marissa Sunnekalb, a clinical nurse from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., who served as observation nurse, established the 64th's first Air Force COVID mass vaccination site within five days of arrival.  Her contributions allowed the team of 221 active duty members to deliver more than 350,000 vaccinations.  She leads a team of 12 medical personnel in the observation of up to 7,000 patients per day. 

“Det. 1, “Motor City’s” medic, Airman 1st Class Pollyann Valenzuela, from Hill AFB, Utah, who served as a site vaccinator, summed up perfectly her contribution to the surrounding area of Detroit,” Austin said. 

“While this may appear as a simple shot to some…to the citizens of Detroit this has been a truly emotional gift that can help families, friends and loved ones reunite and continue to live life again without the fear of the Coronavirus,” said Vallenzuela. “I have personally witnessed the emotional impact that this pandemic can have on a person and am honored to be working alongside our interagency partners to support our nation’s response.”

Austin lauded the efforts of other AEG members who assisted the public.

“Two key members of Gary, Indiana’s “Screaming Eagles” CVC, Staff Sgt. Saundra Turner and Airman 1st Class Taneia Thomas, medical technicians from McGuire AFB, N.J., are vital to our Gary Indiana site,” said Austin. 

Turner, vaccination team noncommissioned officer in charge, led an outdoor vaccination pod comprising a team of two other vaccinators responsible for safely administering the vaccine to the public.  Thomas, who served as a site vaccinator, screened and administered the vaccine to those receiving it.  “Their personal touch contributed to those who receive the vaccine having an encouraging view on the vaccination experience,” said Austin.

St. Paul, Minnesota’s “Kings of the North” CVC, Staff Sgt. DeShaun Jones, a services technician from MacDill AFB, Fla., who assisted with the site’s customer service, provided translator services for non-English speaking guests covering 41 languages through on-site or virtual translators. 

“Most importantly, the emotional support he provides for guests with COVID vaccine fears; whether it is needle phobia, anxiety about possible side effects, or vaccine misinformation, plays a key role in the site’s success,” said Austin.  “His encouraging emotional support gives guests a positive encounter incentivizing their return for their second dose and willingness to share their positive experience with family members, co-workers, and other community members -- a win for St. Paul.”

Airman 1st Class Katie Terra’s, a personnel specialist from Tyndall AFB, Fla., who served at the 64th's CVC site at Grand Rapids, Mich., was the site’s Personnel Support for Contingency Operations (PERSCO), and summed up the significance of her role. 

“Being a part of the COVID vaccination support team and being PERSCO allows me to ensure that Airmen are administratively accounted for and to provide information that is being asked for from my command staff.  I am grateful for this opportunity of meeting new Airmen and learning new tasks that I will use in my Air Force career once our mission is complete.  I am excited to see Airmen come together from all over the country and to work together to assist on putting a stop to COVID-19.”

“The entire 800-plus member team in the 64 AEG plays a key part supporting the nation in this fight against COVID.  These Airmen, help make the state-run, federally supported, CVC sites possible.  The 64th AEG Airmen are proud of the critical role they play in successfully keeping our fellow Americans safe and helping us return to normal.  We’ll continue the support of the 64th until all our Airmen return home safely and we are no longer needed by civil authorities,” said Vanderburg.