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NEWS | April 28, 2020

New York native returns as part of military COVID-19 response

By Lt. Col. Meritt Phillips Army Reserve Medical Command

“Being from New York, I have a strong sense of community and kinship with those suffering in New York City,” shared Col. Anthony Plunkett, an Army Reserve anesthesiologist. “I feel a sense of pride that we have been able to answer the nation’s call to help care for our citizens.”

A native of Troy, New York, Plunkett is one of more than 1,200 Army Reserve medical professionals that have been mobilized in Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces as part of the Department of Defense response to COVID-19, which is being led by U.S. Northern Command. He is currently caring for patients at the Javits Center, which has been converted into a temporary medical facility in New York City.

U.S. Army North, as U.S Northern Command’s Joint Force Land Component Command, continues the rapid integration of medical capabilities in several locations around the country, while remaining flexible to rapidly respond to emerging needs as part of the Department of Defense’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The JFLCC has employed UAMTFs in nine U.S. cities, including New York.

Specifically created to respond in this time of crisis, UAMTFs augment the civilian medical community by delivering a wide range of critical medical capabilities. Each 85-person UAMTF consists of doctors, nurses, combat medics, respiratory therapists, and ancillary personnel.

Plunkett now lives in Pinehurst, North Carolina and is a member of the Army Reserve Medical Command, South East Medical Area Readiness Group, 7458th Medical Backfill Battalion based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The Albany Medical College graduate joined the military to ease the financial burden of Medical School. He served on active duty for more than 10 years with assignments at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. and Womack Army Medical Center, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he now is employed as a Department of Defense Civilian anesthesiologist.

Plunkett joined the Reserve at the end of his active duty service obligation in 2014. He stated, “I wanted to secure a retirement for my family and I wanted to continue to provide strategic level leadership in the medical field.”

A veteran of a deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, he shared observations from his current duty with the other military missions he has experienced.

“This is a very different working environment. Being stuck in personal protective equipment for multiple hours at a time can become very taxing. There is very little opportunity for a break as the time and effort to continually don and doff PPE makes breaking not worth it.“

He went on to say “While wearing PPE, it is difficult to talk and difficult to hear. When your shift is over, stay at home and social distancing makes developing comradery difficult, if not impossible. Even when deployed in Afghanistan, the medical providers had time to socialize, develop a community of friends that could discuss their concerns and frustrations, take a walk, or watch a movie with friends.”

Plunkett, a husband and father, shared that his family is both supportive and concerned about his mission. “My family is very proud of my service. My wife has a detailed knowledge of the COVID-19 pathophysiology and she is extremely worried that I will contract the virus.”

He also recognizes that his service requires his family to make sacrifices, his spouse in particular.

“My wife is left to care for our two children at home alone, keeping them entertained at a time where all entertainment has to occur inside the home, and ensure they are continuing to learn and grow in their schooling: All this while tele-working full time.”

Despite the separation from his family and the challenging working conditions the COVID-19 virus has created, Plunkett is passionate about the mission and the opportunity to serve in his native state of New York, where the majority of his family still resides.

“Whenever I think my job is difficult, I think of all the medical professionals in the local New York City hospitals that have had to endure these conditions and care for patients in much worse conditions than I have,” reflected Plunkett. “If my service in any way helps relieve the burden for tireless NYC hospital workers, then I will have been fulfilled in this mobilization.”