(Note from Ed: Andrew is an officer with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. He recently returned from a 17-day deployment at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas where his mission was to help care for Americans that were quarantined and flown in from Wuhan, as well as a cohort that was on the Diamond Princess cruise from Yokohama. This is his story. I also found it interesting from a leadership perspective, particularly the last part of his post when he got into some nuts and bolts of the deployment. Thank you for your service, Andrew.)
It’s been a week since I’ve been deployed for 17 days and I’m recovering physically, mentally, spiritually and in a better place now. As I reflect back to my time at Lackland, what comes to mind is the hard work and dedication I witnessed from people on the ground who came together to support this mission, doing their best with what they had to help care for the people in quarantine.
So much has changed even in a week in how the coronavirus cases have increased and went from what was thought to be something we could contain through quarantine measures and blocking entry to the U.S. to now being a pandemic and shifting towards trying to increase testing for everyone so we can identify and treat those that are affected. As I reflect on my deployment, I also think about the layers of bureaucracy and how it impedes and sometimes makes it difficult to enact and operationalize policies and guidance that may be best for the people dealing with the virus. Things get lost when authorities make decisions from the 10,000 foot view vs. the view from the ground. Many of the things that are being talked about in the news even today were points many of us were asking and considering three weeks ago. From my time there walking the fence and talking to those in quarantine, what I learned was how much I took the simple things in life for granted and I’ve learned to treasure it so much more. It was the small things I can do every day that I appreciated even more. I received so many small acts of kindness and support from people I just met on this mission and only knew for a few days. They would text or call to check on me and it really made me thankful. I felt love and support from people who were complete strangers before I deployed. I’m not used to being the one on the receiving end of being shown acts of kindness and it felt uncomfortable yet I welcomed it and looked forward to receiving it. Some of the lessons I learned from this mission: 1. Build trust with your team. It's important to designate a leader when you are deployed and if one is not assigned, the group must choose one. It's important to have daily communications and provide clear objectives to your team. Morning briefings of the team objectives and what team needs are as important. Address team concerns and follow through on your commitment to team and communicate to team on the why if it's not possible. Have afternoon check-ins and close out meetings so that we are all aligned as a team on what we need to do. 2. Share important information especially in the early stages of the mission. There are multiple agencies and groups all trying to accomplish the mission and by working closely and sharing information that could help different groups, we can all help each other accomplish our specific team as well as the greater team goals. Don’t let personalities and trying to have your team shine or look good get in the way. 3. If possible, don't plan without seeing the site or environment that you are planning for. For example, we needed to draft a protocol for transporting patients to hotels and before we arrived we thought we could just call a taxi to pick them up. Once at the site, I realized there were several access points and logistics of having the patient safely transported were not realistic and I had to adjust the protocol to have someone escort the patient out of the hospital and brought to their destination. I also had to tweak the time it took to transport passengers once I did my first run. I didn't realize it would take an additional 10 minutes to check into front gate, another 15 minutes to call and gain entry into hospital and go up the floor, about 1 hour to wait for hospital to discharge patient. Review protocols and process with CDC and others involved and get input so there are no gaps in handoffs from one team to another and everyone on the team has the same understanding. 4. Plan for the best case and worst case. Plans can change last minute and it's important that your plan is flexible and you have the best plan you want to execute but also the worst case scenario plan and another next best plan. 5. Stay positive and don't let things that happen to you or your team slow you down. This may be more personal for me but when unexpected things happen to you that may discourage you or keep you from accomplishing what you planned, think of other ways to help the mission. Remember that we are all part of the team and the success of the mission is a shared accomplishment and we are all here to see that happen. Don't let your preferences, attitude, or personality differences get in the way of doing what you are entrusted to do to help the larger team succeed. Everyone has a role and with everyone invested and doing what they are asked, the mission will be a success.