Medic shares thoughts on deployment through pandemic

Megan McGahan has been an aerospace medic with the Nebraska Air National Guard for seven years. She has deployed two other times before, but "I never would have guessed that I would be activated to serve the state of Nebraska to combat an unseen enemy."

McGahan, a 2013 graduate of Piux X High School in Lincoln, earned an undergraduate degree from Wayne State College in 2018.

She is currently a graduate assistant at WSC, working toward a master's degree in school counseling. Her plans are to graduate from WSC in 2021.

Toward the end of March, McGahan was told by military leadership that she was on standby for a COVID-19 related mission, meaning that she would likely be activated to help soon, but when and where exactly were still very much unknown. 

"At the time, I will admit, I was terrified and stressed. How was I going to finish out my semester of graduate school? How was I going to do any wedding planning?" she said. She is planning to be married June 27 in Wayne.

Crises never happen at an opportune time, but to McGahan, this seemed like the worst possible timing. After getting "a good crying session in," she decided it was time to get to work. She scrambled to complete the remaining 11 credits worth of coursework she had at Wayne State College. Her plan was to focus on school and then tackle how to handle her upcoming June wedding.

"(I) knocked out assignment by assignment and then before I knew it, only final projects were left."

She kept chugging along with the mindset that she could be activated the very next day. 

"On April 4, I realized I had only one project left. I was incredibly tempted to reward myself with a relaxing Sunday, but I kept at it. Thank goodness I did, because on April 6, around 10 a.m., I received the call that I had to report to base in Lincoln within two hours," 

"TWO HOURS. Oh boy, the drive to Lincoln (from Wayne) itself takes that long. I had to contact leadership that I would need just a little bit more time to throw my stuff in a bag and get on the road. After running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I did just that. I arrived to the location with fellow activated Nebraska Air Force and Army Guardsmen," McGahan said.

Looking back, she said it is hard to believe that half these people were strangers. They have now been together almost 24/7 for close to two months. 

When the soldiers arrived at the location, they were briefed on what their mission was going to look like, where they were going, and when. 

"There was still one question that loomed over all of us. How long will we be doing this?" McGahan said.

Members of the group assumed at the time that they would be deployed around two weeks. 

The team McGahan was with was deemed Team 2 - The Strike Team. It was comprised of 12 Air Force medical personnel and 12 soldiers with various job backgrounds, such as logistics, transportation and decontamination. McGahan is a trained medic and was able to perform the actual swabbing of those being tested.

The first day of the operation took place in the parking lot of Fonner Park in Grand Island. The group set up tents and equipment while discussing the exact flow of it all and the roles everyone would play. 

"We started slow that day but we quickly got into a groove. As days turned into weeks, we began to realize that this mission was going to last longer than we expected. Although this uncertainty remained, morale remained high. The team I am a part of works like a well-oiled machine and we are always struck by the generosity of Nebraskans. Everywhere we have gone, we are thanked," she said.

The team have tested Nebraskans in Grand Island, Lexington, Aurora, Cozad, Gibbon, Norfolk, West Point, Ord, Dakota City, and Hastings. They have tested first responders, nursing home residents and workers, and the general public. 

"The most humbling and difficult follow up missions we have had included the nursing home residents. A lot of the residents had dementia, so it was tough to explain to them what we were doing and why. My heart goes out to them. We have a lot of pride in our state and it is an honor to help out our fellow Nebraskans. This is what I signed up to do — serve," McGahan said.

She said that not only was she thankful for the opportunity to serve, but she was also grateful that she was not quarantined at home.

"I knew I would be going stir crazy if that was the case and as an extrovert, I was happy to be getting patient interaction everyday," she said.

However, toward the end of April, the thought of what the health regulations for June would be like began weighing on her. She began to lose sleep worrying about what to do about the wedding. 

"I talked to my fiance and together we made a difficult decision. We would still be getting married on June 27, with only immediate family in attendance, and next year we will be having the whole wedding/reception celebration that we originally wanted. It felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders to finally have a plan. Our wedding will not be what I had always envisioned, but it will still be perfect. I still get to marry the man of my dreams, twice! God has a plan for us," McGahan said.

She said that as her mission comes to an end, she cannot help but look back on the experiences she has had and feel extremely humbled. 

"I could not have done this mission without support from my fiance and parents. My mom has been a huge help with contacting all the wedding vendors we had and rescheduling them for next year. I cannot thank my support system enough," she said.

"I am thankful for the professors at the college who worked with me this semester to accommodate my deployment. Wayne State College’s values aligned nicely with the Air Force’s core value of 'Excellence in all you do,"" she said.

McGahan was recently informed that she will be able to have the month of June off from active service and will again be activated in July for additional testing duties.

"Although this spring semester did not go as planned, I am grateful it did not. I have learned so much, gained new friendships with coworkers, visited parts of Nebraska I’d never seen before, and most importantly, made a difference."

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