Coraopolis, Pa. --
Athletes train their entire lives for a chance to move onto the next level to compete. Each step becomes increasingly more difficult. Football players strive to play in the Superbowl, while hockey players dream of showcasing their talents in the Stanley Cup Finals. This is sports; where a life of hard work can lead to one pivotal moment. Tech. Sgt. Jacob Linsenbigler, a public health technician and non-commissioned officer in charge of communicable disease assigned to the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, used these examples to explain what the COVID-19 pandemic means to his career field.
Linsenbigler, or LB if you work close with him, is 5 feet 8 inches tall with a medium build and blond hair. He’s quick with the jokes and always has the others around him smiling. “At the end of the day, it’s just about comfort level,” said LB. “Regardless of what rank you are, you want a good team environment. Of course, there are times when you need to be professional, but we all want to be treated like people. It goes a long way when you want to get results out of others.”
LB enlisted in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in 2013 to work in Medical Logistics. After a few years, LB cross-trained into public health after learning about a potential opportunity to work full-time at the wing. As time went on, LB worked his way up the chain in public health and became well known around the installation. He also accepted a six-month active duty tour working as the commander’s support staff for the wing. During this time, he worked directly with the wing command staff, group commanders and superintendents. He had a chance to witness operations at the wing from the top down. This provided him with an opportunity to learn about military professionalism, attention to detail and how to develop himself into a valuable member of a team.
He would normally have spent early spring performing tic drags, monitoring food preparation or educating service members about the importance of washing your hands. Unfortunately, things changed dramatically when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania imposed restrictions due to COVID-19. LB found himself going from a typical nine-to-five guy, to a twenty-four hours a day guy. “Overnight, we went from being just a wing asset to more like an Air Force asset.” In order to help as many members as possible, he opted to forward his office line directly to his cell phone, so he could continue to support service members during the evening hours.
The pandemic challenged the 171st Public Health office to work outside of their normal environment. The team had to begin communicating regularly with nearby agencies like Allegheny Health Network, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Heritage Valley and the other Department of Defense medical teams within the region to obtain and distribute information. “We were kind of a regional asset working hand-in-hand with the reserves (910th Airlift Wing in Youngstown, Ohio and the 911th Airlift Wing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), our active duty and other guard counterparts,” said LB. “We also worked directly with nearby hospitals, VA centers and other local medical facilities sharing information.” A beneficial outcome of this are the bridges that were created. “These connections will greatly benefit the wing moving forward. Sometimes, it can be hard for us to get good training with our limited resources so establishing these connections will really help us out.” Training with the local medical providers can open the door for recruiting opportunities as well. “Once some of these doctors and nurses get a chance to work with us, they can see for themselves what it’s like and hopefully put on a uniform and become a part of our team.”
The 171st Medical Group has a small but cohesive full-time team. Maj. Lindsay Jones, physician’s assistant-certified and acting public health emergency officer, Capt. Joelle McGrath, public health officer, Tech. Sgt. Megan Messner, NCOIC of public health, Airman 1st Class Madison Posterivo, public health technician, and LB have molded into a strong team supporting one another. Everyone on the team looks out for one another and does what they can to make sure each member of the team feels supported. “We’ve been really good with that. Maj. Jones and I always end the conversation with ‘if there is anything else I can do, let me know’. It’s been really supportive,” said LB. “The pandemic has helped our team become stronger together.”
During a time when there is so much uncertainty, it is nice to have someone like Jacob Linsenbigler around. As things slowly return to normal, it is still very easy to feel down or depressed. The pandemic has a way of doing that to you. Fortunately, LB is gifted in putting a smile on your face. It is one of his best characteristics.