Air Force Senior Master Sergeant spearheading COVID testing regimen inspires team
By THOMAS GNAU | Dayton Daily News | Published: January 2, 2021
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(Tribune News Service) — When Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Christina Ré started training in military health care, she could not know that one day she would need to call on untold reserves of resilience and flexibility during a global pandemic.
But that's where she and her Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Medical Center team find themselves now.
"I've worked pretty much everywhere and around the world," Ré said. "And I've deployed plenty of times. This is my passion; this is what I love to do. I take care of folks."
Editor's note: In a series called Inspire Dayton, The Dayton Daily News is telling the stories of individuals who have inspired others during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
"Folks" is often how she refers to colleagues and patients. She clearly regards them as family, and that informs her entire attitude.
"It's almost like when you get deployed, it's a bond that you can't forget," Ré said. "We're all in it together. We're all going through it. We all have these same emotions."
Working as the primary care flight superintendent at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center, her job is taking care of patients and supervising others who do the same.
Her colleagues are happy she's on the team, especially now.
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Thad Ocampo, who is the chief of the Allergy and Immunizations clinics at Wright-Patterson, has worked with Ré since March, when the base's pandemic response kicked into high gear.
"The pandemic is something that we planned for, but maybe something we hoped would never happen," Ocampo said.
Ré was "intimately involved" with standing up and directing COVID-19 screening and testing operations at the Medical Center, he said. The medical center serves military members, dependents and retirees on a sprawling base of some 30,000 military and civilian employees.
Ré was crucial in staffing and training in a job that required constant adaptability, Ocampo said.
"She's very obviously hard-working, dedicated and focused on not only the mission at hand but also on the people," he said. "She's great to work with."
Ré has always felt drawn to health care and medical care. When she was a young girl, she found herself taking care of a diabetic grandmother who dealt with more than one serious health challenge.
"I was just trying to give her what she needed, like helping her with her insulin shots," she remembered. "Just basically being there. Family is everything to me. It was the way I was brought up."
Both of her parents served in the military, as did her grandfather, who was an officer in the Navy. She remembered the respect her grandfather commanded whenever he walked into a room, and seeing that helped direct her to her own military career.
"I think it meant a lot that he put himself last and others first," she said of her grandfather.
A 22-year member of the Air Force, Ré, 42, found herself honing on the health-care field after she entered the service.
She and her colleagues are certified as EMTs — emergency medical technicians, but she is also working on training her team as LPNs or licensed practical nurses. "I think it's the right way for the medical field to go, and now that we have (LPN) verification for when we get out (of the Air Force), we can actually use that toward civilian life."
Asked how the pandemic changed her life, Ré laughed and said: "How long do you have?"
She is continuing her normal primary care mission, but with a whole lot added.
As she put it: "I wear multiple hats."
In late November, the base said the Medical Center had the capacity to test 170 patients a day for COVID-19 in a drive-through testing lane.
But testing was launched in March when the pandemic first began to be truly felt domestically and in Ohio. An early testing site was outside the Medical Center in the early spring.
"It was cold when all this started, so we had to have some kind of heat," Ré said. "We worked with lots of agencies on the wing to get our (protection) from the elements."
A "typical day" may have entailed working 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. or even later, with an expectation that she was on call as needs arose.
"Long hours definitely," Ré said. "It's always changing and being flexible, knowing that this pandemic, nobody really knew what was going on. We were listening to the CDC ... we were adjusting as the information was getting back to us."
In an interview, she continuously paused to praise her team. If she inspires them, they inspire her.
"It's not just me," she said more than once. "I don't think I could say it enough. It's the team."
"It's more about being a servant-leader and being there for others," Ré said. "And of course, my base has something to do with that, too."
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