Veterans respond to Army’s call for coronavirus help

Wendy Peterson served in the Army in Iraq and raised her hand again for a new assignment last week.

The Army sent more than 800,000 retired or separated veterans a plea last week to volunteer to return and fill in for hundreds of active duty medical professionals being sent to help Army field hospitals set up in coronavirus hot spots such as New York and Seattle. Peterson is among the thousands of retired or separated who responded. A couple of days later, on March 29, members of the Individual Ready Reserves, who are similar to the reserves and can be recalled to duty by presidential order, also were asked to volunteer.

It’s part of the military’s gearing up to respond to the global pandemic caused by the continued spread of coronavirus in the U.S.

“I decided to step up the first day I saw it on Facebook,” said Peterson, who has 20 years of Army service, including a tour in Iraq as a as a combat medic. The 60-year-old Atlantan is now a surgical technician who works 13-week contracts, helping fill in at hospitals around the nation.

“In the Army they tell us never leave a comrade behind. And I don’t want to leave civilians if they need help. This is my career and what I love,” she said.

Lt. Col. Emmanuel Ortiz of Human Resources Command told the Army is looking for those not already working full-time in local hospitals. In a phone call with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he said the first 24 hours after the callout, 9,000 volunteered. That grew to 17,000 over the weekend. The Army is still sorting out the responses.

Peterson is hoping to hear back before her contract runs out.

Phyllis Wilson, who lives near Washington, D.C., is a retired nurse who also volunteered, if needed. She spent 37 years in the Army and Army Reserves. Her family has a tradition of military service, including her four sons. She said she was unafraid of possibly being put back into medical service at a time when front line workers are being exposed to coronavirus.

“In the 80’s in nursing, many of my peers were concerned with HIV and AIDS patients,” she said. “It never worried me, and I am still here. I realize that this is a totally different situation, but I think that is what this is all about. And I answered the call.”

Helping fill the holes created when others are sent to the hot spots means she will have less possible exposure to the deadly disease.

“That will put them more in harms way than me,” she said.

Ortiz said the Army should have a clearer view of the next steps toward the end of this week.