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Georgia National Guard's 116th Army Band helps with testing

By Staff Sgt. Amy King | Georgia National Guard | May 14, 2020

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Members of the Georgia National Guard’s 116th Army Band and 93rd Financial Management Support Unit are helping Augusta University test Georgia citizens for COVID-19.

Guard Soldiers have been operating outside their military occupational specialties by implementing Augusta University’s app, AU Health ExpressCare.

The app helps Georgia residents, some suffering from COVID-19 symptoms, find nearby testing sites. Nine of these sites are specimen point of collection (SPOC) sites operated by Augusta University with support from the Georgia Guard.

“As more sites have come online, our workload has increased pretty dramatically,” said Sgt. 1st. Class Adam Pyper, shift NCOIC, 116th Army Band, Georgia Army National Guard. “We’re constantly looking over our schedule to see what we need to change and how we need to adjust fire to meet demand.”

Pyper and several other members of the band, a few personnel with the 93rd FMSU, and a few Airmen from both the 116th Airlift Wing and 165th Air Control Wings have been working in a call center that helps people using the app find the resources they need. There are two ways people can try to find a test site.

The first, and preferred method, is to download and login to the app. Then the app user is led through a video screening with a medical provider who will identify if they should be tested for COVID-19. Once it has been determined the user is a candidate for testing, their name is put into a pool. This is where Pyper and his fellow service members come in.

“The doctor tells them that shortly they will be contacted by us,” said Pyper. “We receive that pool of information. We take their record that pops up, and it’s just generic information to start with. It might be their name and date of birth, just to get us started. We call them up on the phone, ideally within 15 to 20 minutes, and we’ll call them 24/7.”

The crew works around the clock to ensure that those seeking help can find the answers they need. But not all citizens know about the app. In that case, Pyper in his crew can take a different course of action.

“The patient sees on a news outlet or a news report somewhere that there’s a site that’s near them they can go get tested at,” said Pyper. “If it happens to be one of ours, then what they’ll do is they’ll arrive at the site, the nurse will do like a rapid face-to-face screening with them and ask them whatever questions they need to determine whether or not they should be tested.”

Pyper explained that after a nurse screening, the process works almost the same as if they had used the app. Patients are then routed to their call center, where Soldiers and Airmen do everything within their power to ensure they get the care they need that same day. Their efforts do not go unnoticed.

“Many times, I’ve had people on the phone stop at the end and say ‘let me just take a moment to tell you how grateful I am,’” said Pyper. “That is what I’m here for. We’re impacting the public in a very intimate way. Ways we may not even know until they come up to us and say ‘That’s making a huge difference in my day, my week, and my life.’ This kind of thing does that.”

Pyper believes that musicians and finance personnel are ideal for this job as it requires a human touch and an intuitive knowledge of database navigation. Guard members within the band have likely spent years learning to play music and performing in public, often to strangers. It’s these types of communication skills and dedication that makes them good at what they do in the call center. More importantly, he says, is the opportunity to use their skills to participate in a defense support to civil authorities mission.

“I think it’s great that we’ve got Soldiers in uniform answering the phone and saying, ‘This is sergeant so-and-so, or this is Airman first class so-and-so. I’m here to help,’” said Pyper. “This is awesome, and it’s a great opportunity for us to serve the community in a direct way.”