Niagara Airman deploys in response to COVID-19

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Lucas Morrow
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Tech. Sgt. William Lee, a nightshift respiratory therapist from Indiana, woke early in the afternoon on April 4, 2020, to a call to serve in a short notice deployment in support of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

"I went to bed at 8 a.m. and woke up four hours later to a call. They said, are you ready?" said Lee.

So, he packed his bags to report to his home-station of Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y. the next morning.

He started out-processing the 914th Air Refueling Wing's Aeromedical Staging Squadron (ASTS) at 8 a.m. on April 5, 2020. After a passing temperature check, he gave a blood sample, updated his records, checked over his deployment folder and packed his bags to leave for the airport. Then it's off to the front lines of the COVID-19 response efforts. However, Lee says he's no stranger to working with patients with COVID-19.

"It's very stressful," says Lee. "My hospital is ensuring when were working in the intensive care unit that we're wearing the proper protective equipment. We have hazmat suits that blow filtered air into your hood so that you're not breathing in the virus."

But Lee says it's not just the extra equipment requirements to perform your regular job. It's an overwhelming call to take care of so many.

"I don't think I've ever been this tired in my life," says Lee. "Just working one day with patients with the virus takes so much effort."

Lt. Col. Shelley Durante, 914th ASTS commander, made sure to show her support even if it's just a ride to the airport or a cup of coffee for Lee and the team helping him deploy.

"He's a hero," says Durante. "This is so difficult for many in our squadron as most of us work in the civilian medical field. This virus is affecting so many."

But Air Force Reserve leadership says this is a part of a broader mobilization of more than 120 doctors, nurses and respiratory technicians Air Force Reserve units across the nation provided over the past 48 hours in support of COVID-19 response to take care of Americans.

As Lee loaded up to leave, he mentioned he was surprised his short flight was over two hours. But one can't help but wonder if it's a small win to catch up on some lost sleep.