Leading medical personnel during unprecedented times

Nurses and medical technicians with highly sought after skills for COVID-19 response departed Luke Air Force Base, April 22 to join hundreds more Reservists already providing care to patients in and around the New York City area.

Lt. Col. Robert Barth, 944th Medical Squadron interim commander, talks with Airmen before a dozen medical personnel from the 944th Medical and Aeromedical Staging Squadrons were mobilized to New York in support of the COVID-19 pandemic from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., April 22, 2020. This deployment is part of a larger mobilization package, of more than 700 doctors, nurses and respiratory technicians from Air Force Reserve units across the nation, in support of COVID-19 response to take care of Americans. (U.S. Air Force photo taken by Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega Jr.)


As demand for medical personnel has increased in response to COVID-19, so has the need for solid leadership. Lt. Col. Robert Barth, previously the 944th Medical Squadron deputy commander, was unexpectedly asked to step into the role of interim commander for the 944th MDS, April 16.

Barth has been serving in the Air Force Reserve for 18 years, the majority of that time with the 944th Fighter Wing and has held chief nurse and deputy commander positions within the medical squadron. The 944th MDS bid farewell to their former commander in early March and anticipated welcoming a new commander shortly after, but the paused military personnel moves meant the squadron needed a temporary leader to navigate through these unprecedented times.

“I didn’t expect to be in this role,” said Barth. “I am proud to help our amazing medical team join forces with our sister service partners to take care of fellow Americans.”

As commander, Barth is in charge of assuring mission integrity, recognizing excellence, supporting full-time Reservists who are executing physical exam package missions, as well as mentorship for his fellow officers and enlisted members.

“Know that regardless of what role you serve in, you are supporting those who are directly engaged in the mission,” said Barth. “Be it this medical response or engagements throughout the globe, what you do matters.”

There were nearly 20 medical Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 944th deployed in support of COVID-19 response in New York City and surrounding states.

“During these unprecedented times, we are all making sacrifices,” said Col. Jim Greenwald, 944th FW commander. “We have asked a lot of our members and Lt. Col. Barth is no exception. The experience he has gained in his military and civilian careers will be invaluable in leading our medical personnel.”

On the civilian side, Barth is a director of emergency services at a two-hospital system in Prescott with two full service emergency rooms.

“Be ready when you are tapped on the shoulder to step up and don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” said Barth. “When things such as our COVID-19 response happen long term planning is not a luxury we have and being what I call ‘Rigidity Flexible’ will serve you well.”