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Airman delays retirement, helps AEDC meet COVID-19 challenge

Master Sgt. Joshua Suggs is the branch chief for the Medical Aid Station at Arnold Air Force Base. He delayed his retirement when the COVID-19 pandemic increased the unit's workload. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

Master Sgt. Joshua Suggs is the branch chief for the Medical Aid Station at Arnold Air Force Base. He delayed his retirement when the COVID-19 pandemic increased the unit's workload. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --

Master Sgt. Joshua Suggs was nearing the end of his military career, with terminal leave planned to begin May 1 and retirement Sept. 1.

That was before COVID-19.

With the pandemic surging in the United States, Suggs demonstrated the Air Force core value of “service before self,” delaying his retirement to help team members at Arnold Engineering Development Complex meet this new threat to personnel and the mission.

Suggs is the branch chief of the Arnold Air Force Base Medical Aid Station.

It was a very busy time for the unit – writing base policies, drafting return-to-full-capacity plans, providing daily briefings for AEDC Commander Col. Jeffrey Geraghty, tracking COVID-19 data for 100 counties across four states and working with local, state and Air Force public health, among other tasks.

The unit was also losing a “vital team member” to a permanent change of station.

“I couldn’t with a clear conscience just walk away from the team during these times,” Suggs said. “Not only would they lose the manpower, they would lose their leader during a pandemic. So, I talked with my wife to make sure she was onboard with the decision, and she was all for it.”

The expertise of the Medical Aid Station team was, and still is, in high demand.

“It went from normal operations of making decisions that affect my work center, to being part of the team that makes recommendations to the Wing Commander to keep the wing’s populace safe from a deadly virus,” Suggs said. “Being the medical SMEs (subject matter experts), we had to quickly become COVID-19 experts. This was the hardest part of the task because the guidance was and still is constantly changing.”

The team, like many, shifted to a telework status, and continues to work modified schedules to maintain social distancing to minimize risk.

“We still have a lot of ground to cover, but it is much more manageable at this point,” Suggs said.

He added he is grateful for his team and proud of their efforts.

“These have been very trying times during this pandemic and there were some very long and stressful days, but you learn a lot during these types of situations,” Suggs said. “All the hurdles that we had to overcome because of the changing work dynamic, I learned that I have a strong team, a team that’s not afraid of adversity, a team that doesn’t complain because of a heavy workload, a team that can overcome ever-evolving conditions and not just make it work, but excel.

“No one wants to be in the middle of a pandemic, but I’m glad I got to go through it with this team. I feel like even though we have to stay further apart, this experience has brought us closer together as a team.”

Suggs now plans to begin terminal leave in January 2021 and retire in May 2021.