Joint effort supports JBER Respiratory Clinic

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Samuel Colvin
  • 673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Managing January’s spike in positive COVID-19 cases meant a joint effort needed to occur to meet the demand for tests and increased traffic at the 673d Medical Group Respiratory Clinic at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

With the initial surge in cases, some patients were waiting more than three hours to get tested in a line of cars stretching nearly a half mile.

JBER medical personnel were directing traffic, providing information to patients and administering COVID-19 tests. Working in subfreezing temperatures, with several of their own people out due to illness, and coping with a spike in patient testing, the 673d MDG reached out for help.

“Our med group reports statistics to wing leadership, which helps them monitor the base and our [Health Protection Condition] level,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Nicole Haun, the 673d MDG Respiratory Clinic officer in charge. “We let higher leadership know we needed help, that it was difficult for us to manage the influx of patients coming to the Respiratory Clinic. Many members within the med group also [tested positive for] COVID, which in turn caused our unit to… need extra manning to manage the traffic flow.”

Upon receiving the news, the 673d Air Base Wing took action. The 673d Security Forces Squadron supplied mobile guard shacks to shelter people managing traffic flow while the 773d Civil Engineer Squadron provided generators to power the heat and lighting in the guard shacks. This made medical personnel and 673d ABW volunteers working outside in the Alaska winter more comfortable.

Due to the location of the shacks, ‘spot generation’ was initiated. This is when a structure requires mobile generators to be set up for power.

“When we first got out there, we set the generators up and made sure everything was working correctly,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tyler Cross, a 773d CES Electrical Power Production journeyman. “Every day or every other day we were out there checking on them, making sure the generators were running properly, making sure they had enough diesel and the people working in the shacks were comfortable and able to use everything.”

Andrew Vanderwerff, the 773d CES Power Generation work lead, added, “the shelters are not anywhere near a facility or power source, and it’s comparable to a deployed condition. We're pretty well versed in providing power anywhere that's required for any type of mission.”

The mobile generators initially placed to power the guard shacks were too powerful, so the 773d CES used its own funds to purchase smaller generators that better suited the task, Vanderwerff said. Once those generators are no longer needed at the Respiratory Clinic, they will stay in the 773d CES’s inventory for use elsewhere when needed.

“Every job is critical on the installation, but I think the larger role of CE is kind of in the background — making sure the installation functions properly,” Vanderwerff said. “It doesn't matter what condition or posture the installation is in, we always find a way to make it happen.”

Service members from units across JBER also volunteered to assist with directing traffic and explaining available services to people seeking to test.

“U.S. Army Alaska had members here to help internally with Respiratory Clinic operations during the surge in cases,” Haun said. “It was definitely joint operations across the entire installation. So many people came to help us; the support we got from everybody was amazing.

“We completely changed everything after what happened in January,” Haun continued. “At the height of the surge, we could test about 50 people an hour with our spots available and our manning. If we ever get a surge again, we know what to do and how to do it with all of the support we got.”

Currently, both test demand and positive cases have decreased, but the guard shacks and generators will remain in place. Service members who supported Respiratory Clinic operations during January’s spike said they are ready to jump back in to help should the need arise.

“It was really cool being able to help out — it's not one of the things you get to do every day,” Cross said. “We had so many people put their hands in the operation to make sure the medics are able to stay warm and continue to test people safely in an arctic environment.”

For JBER Respiratory Clinic hours and COVID-19 testing services, visit