FORT DIX, N.J. –
As the nation celebrated National Nurses Week in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has magnified the critical role nurses, both civilian and military, play in the battle against the virus.
Lt. Col. Aaron Gopp, a Citizen-Soldier from Fruitland, Idaho 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’s response to COVID-19 led by U.S. Northern Command.
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. The Reserve medical professionals work alongside active duty medical specialists representing all services of the military.
Gopp received the call to mobilize April 5, and within days was working in an intensive care unit at the Javits Center in New York City. His responsibilities included providing critical care management that at times required intubating or inserting a breathing tube into the patient’s airway to connect them to a ventilator.
"Overall, the combined teams that worked at Javits took care of 1,095 patients," said Gopp.
Gopp, a graduate of the University of Iowa, has a master’s degree in nursing and is a certified registered nurse anesthetist who in his civilian career provides anesthesia services at St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario, Oregon.
Gopp also serves as a medical exercise trainer with the 7305th Medical Training Support Battalion in Sacramento, California, a supporting unit of the Medical Readiness and Training Command. MRTC provides advanced medical training by leading several annual field exercises, such as Global Medic, for more than 2,000 troops across all branches of the U.S. military alongside multi-national allies including Canada, Germany, and Britain.
"I've been in medicine for 30 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Gopp. "It's not like the flu, this is nasty stuff—it’s just a crazy disease."
Gopp said that the number of new patients admitted to Javits peaked in mid-April, but declined before the end of the month. The last patient from the facility was discharged May 1, but other mobilized Reserve medical specialists are continuing to provide support to multiple hospitals in the area.
"One of the memories of a patient that will stay with me, is a grandmother in her 70s that I cared for in the ICU," said Gopp. "She really just wanted to see her newborn grandson and you could tell that it meant a lot to her to do that—just in case she didn't make it. We were able to arrange a video conference through a cell phone for her, so that she could see her grandson, and you could tell that it just brought her so much joy. That is the kind of experience that really reminds you of why you are there."
Gopp traveled to Fort Dix, New Jersey, May 4, to begin a routine 14-day quarantine before he returns home. He said that he feels healthy, has tested negative for the virus, and has all his meals delivered to his door each day to minimize contact with others. Gopp returned home May 12 to his wife Shanna and their two sons, Hunter and Dylan.
"I've been serving as an Army Reserve Soldier for 30 years, and when our nation calls upon us—that's what we do," said Gopp. "I've deployed several times, twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. This has been a truly unique and rewarding experience for me, both as a member of the military and the medical community. I’m ready to do my part again to help my fellow Americans, if I am called upon.”