United States Naval Hospital, Guam, 08.13.2020 –
After a coronavirus-related shutdown that lasted about two months, military processing in Guam resumed in May.
United States Naval Hospital Guam temporarily closed its MEPS site March 16 after most of the staff joined the USS Theodore Roosevelt coronavirus support mission, said Air Force Capt. David Supowit, Honolulu MEPS executive officer.
Eight days later, the Guam Military Entrance Test site closed “due to Guam territory and local stay-at-home guidance in order to slow down community spread of COVID-19, which had just seen a significant increase for the island,” Supowit said.
With a big boost from USMEPCOM, Honolulu MEPS and Seattle MEPS, the Guam MET operations resumed May 19 and physical examinations began a day later.
Col. Arthur Cajigal, the Medical Plans and Policy director at USMEPCOM, assisted in the restart of Guam processing from May 26 to June 5. He served as the primary MEPS medical provider and helped train two Guam Army National Guard physician assistants on how to conduct applicants’ physical exams.
“The applicants were kind of stacking up and we had to take care of them,” Cajigal said. “Col. (Richard T.) Brady said, ‘Hey, let’s take matters into our own hands because we can handle this temporarily.’
“The progress that was made during my time in Guam was amazing. The PAs started to get used to the battle rhythm. They got pretty good with decision-making and it was real neat seeing them progress and seeing the process evolve over the two weeks.”
Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric J. Sargent, Honolulu MEPS medical supervisor, played a major role in getting Guam operations back in full swing.
“He’s a great, wonderful leader,” Cajigal said. “He was the one who made it happen on a day-to-day basis and it was only possible because of him.”
Along with Cajigal and USMEPCOM Western Sector medical officer Colleen Murphy, Honolulu MEPS chief medical officer Coswin K. Saito, Honolulu MEPS assistant chief medical officer Frank Reynolds and Army Sgt. 1st Class Tammy Slone, Seattle MEPS medical NCOIC, were essential to helping Guam medical operations resume.
“(Murphy) did the final certification to say, ‘You two physicians are good to go with running the physical exams,’” Cajigal said.
The group faced the challenge of setting up medical operations in a building much smaller than most MEPS.
“When I worked at the MEPS in Charlotte, San Jose and Columbus, everything you needed was there,” Cajigal said. “In Guam, the conditions were a little more spartan. The layout of the building wasn’t necessarily ideal, but you made do with what you had because you had a mission.
“Sargent did a marvelous job of setting it up based on the building he was given.”
USMEPCOM’s role in the Guam mission also included visits by Navy Capt. Nathan King, Western Sector commander, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Jackson. They met with Guam National Guard Adjutant General Esther Aguigui on May 18 and provided a commander’s update on coronavirus operations to Gov. Lourdes Aflague Leon Guerrero on May 23.
When asked about the future of Guam processing, Supowit said “the duration of the medical mission is dependent on USNH Guam resumption of ancillary services and their MEPS mission. Although the USS Theodore Roosevelt has departed Guam, USNH Guam is retaining specialized capabilities which don’t currently have a defined end date. Medical processing in Guam was originally tasked based on temporary guidelines; however, Honolulu MEPS has set up several enduring capabilities which will last until no longer needed.”
Supowit credited Guam Army National Guard for easing the resumption of operations.
“Honolulu MEPS has benefited greatly from the extremely capable and motivated Guam Army National Guard,” he said. “Honolulu MEPS continues to participate in communications with USNH Guam Command to discuss continued support and insight on a potential timeline for resumption of normal medical operations.”
Cajigal also praised the Guam Army National Guard.
“We were able to partner closely with the Guam Army National Guard and they were extremely supportive of us doing this,” Cajigal said. “I honestly don’t think we could do this without the red carpet treatment they gave us.”
Guam’s government was receptive to the mission.
“Guam’s government wanted us there because there was a backlog of applicants waiting to get processed,” Cajigal said. “They welcomed us with open arms and said, ‘Hey, here’s a building for you to do this in.’
“They were absolutely wonderful and it was a great experience.”