By 1st Lt. Grace Harrison
Defense Department Support to FEMA COVID-19
Lt. Col. Peter Stewart, a U.S. Army Reserve Nurse Corps Officer, has been an integral part of the frontline fight since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a public health nurse on the civilian side, Stewart has been contact tracing, COVID testing, and acting as an informational resource for the COVID-19 pandemic since March of 2020.
Now, almost a year later, Stewart is mobilized to Yuma Regional Medical Center (YRMC) under the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) as a clinical nurse with COVID patients, while assigned to the Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force (UAMTF) 328-1, as a part of the ongoing military relief for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s probably the hardest thing I have done in a long time,” Stewart reflected, “but I feel like it is a worthwhile endeavor that is helping the people here feel like they are getting support to relieve the suffering the pandemic has brought.”
With the Army Reserve being called upon for such a large domestic effort to directly support the American people, Stewart feels that this is where the military is able to show they are capable of providing much needed care during humanitarian missions at home as well as abroad.
As a public health nurse with Salt Lake County Health Department, it has been ten years since Stewart has worked in the bedside nurse capacity.
Having patients who are struggling to breathe, and on high levels of oxygen, is taxing and requires constant vigilance. A labor of love, often sitters stay in the rooms to watch over their patients. The teams make multiple visits to the rooms to administer medication, and IV fluids, while donning and doffing Personal Protective Equipment and taking extra caution to prevent the spread of the infection.
But there are also those times where the sick and the caregiver are able to make a deeper connection.
“It has been my experience that… the patients are very thankful for the work we do, and they don’t hesitate to express it,” said Stewart. “It’s very rewarding when patients thank you for helping them do things they are unable to do for themselves.”
These moments keep the team moving forward.
“It has been stressful getting used to the hospital life again, but I am working with a good group of local nurses who are willing to nurture us and help us out,” said Stewart.
They have been helping the integrated Army staff find equipment, supplies, and charting on the electronic medical records since the normal integration period has been significantly compressed to just a few days, rather than the usual weeks.
Reflecting, Stewart said, “I feel like I’m an older service member who is still able to serve and provide mentoring to new soldiers. I’m able to watch the continuum from growing up during the Cold War to the current period, when we fight increasingly more cyber battles.”
When it comes to this mission, he believes that best message for other medical personnel who are also engaged in the fight in their communities comes from the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “To our men and women deployed and at home, safeguarding our country – stay ready, keep your eyes on the horizon, and remain focused on the mission. We honor your continued service in defense of every American.”
“One of my big supports is my family,” said Stewart.
Being able to take advantage of current technology, he’s kept in touch with them via Zoom. The weeks apart has been difficult and although he finds it hard to express just how grateful he is for the solid foundation they’ve provided, he knows they’re on his side.
“It’s a great advantage in both his Army and civilian life, so that is a big plus,” said Stewart.
“I’ve got my eyes on the horizon, and hopefully we will be through this soon,” said Stewart, contemplating on the path ahead. “I encourage other Soldiers to continue to perform their duties at the highest levels and I am grateful that I am able to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve.”
Stewarts home unit is the 328th Field Hospital, based at Ft. Douglas, Salt Lake City, Utah. A resident of Riverton, Utah, he completed his medical training at Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah.
After being commissioned through the ROTC at Brigham Young University, Stewart served in the 91st Training Division. Serving globally, Belize, Germany, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and twice in Morocco.
The mobilized soldiers fall under U.S. Army North during their mission. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to the whole-of-government COVID-19 response.