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NEWS | Sept. 8, 2020

Army Reserve dietitian from Florida serves on front lines of federal COVID response

By Col. Meritt Phillips Army Reserve Medical Command

“When you don’t live it day to day, it just seems like this ‘thing’ that’s out there,” said U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Ginger M. Sandifer. “Once you start working in the environment, you realize how real the virus actually is. It has definitely been eye opening for me.”

Sandifer is one of more than 1,000 U.S. Army Reserve medical soldiers, mobilized since March. They are a critical part of the Department of Defense support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mobilized in late July, Sandifer is a member of an 85-person team of doctors, nurses, combat medics, respiratory therapists, and other specialized personnel that expand the capacity of care that civilian medial facilities can offer their community. They are referred to as Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces.

“Our mission is to augment the hospitals during this time when they are receiving an influx of patients,” said Sandifer.

A dietitian from Apollo Beach, Florida, Sandifer is serving with UAMTF-7458, assigned to Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen, Texas.

“I am a dietitian for a 20-bed unit, responsible for ordering, monitoring, and adjusting tube feedings for patients on ventilation,” she said.

“The hospital turned outpatient areas into COVID floors due to the increase in patients, and we help them run those units, while also giving some healthcare providers some much needed relief,” she said.

In total, U.S. Northern Command has assigned approximately 590 military medical and support personnel from the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Texas.

Born and raised in Titusville, Florida, Sandifer attended Florida State University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. She went on to earn a Masters of Arts in Human Services, with an emphasis in Health and Wellness counseling from Liberty University.

“In college I had a lot of friends in ROTC and always admired the bond and closeness they had,” she said. “They had each other’s backs and always pushed each other to be the best they could be. Once I finished my masters and was trying to decide what my next step was, I saw a recruitment ad for a military dietitian and decided to apply. It was honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Sandifer earned a direct commission and entered active duty in 2009, serving at Fort Gordon, Georgia, then Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and finally Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She transferred to the Army Reserve in 2016.

“I knew I wasn’t ready to hang up my uniform,” she explained regarding her decision to continue to serve in the Army Reserve. “I love teaching Soldiers about basic nutrition and sports nutrition.”

“There is no better feeling than when a soldier walks up to you and says that he has been having difficulty meeting height/weight standards for a few months but that after my nutrition class, he was finally able to meet his standards,” she added.

A wife and mother of two, her family worries about her health and safety, but are also a source of strength. She video chats with them regularly.

“They are proud of my service to our country, and fully support me during my time away,” she said.

In her civilian career, Sandifer is an Informatics Dietitian and Food Operations Manager on the Healthcare Operational Excellence team with Sodexo.

For now, she is participating in a historic domestic military response and her citizen-soldier skills are ensuring critically ill patients receive adequate nutrition to battle the COVID-19 virus.

“As Soldiers, we’ve always been trained to treat our Soldiers or the (foreign) nationals in the areas we support,” said Sandifer. “It’s great that we get to use our expertise and training to assist in whatever capacity we are needed.”