FORT SMITH, Ark. – As the number of COVID-19 cases accelerates in the United States, nurses are on the front lines of the health care response, fighting not only for the lives of their patients but also for the lives of their families and themselves.
Capt. Breeanna Howerton is an Arkansas Air National Guard clinical nurse with the 188th Wing, but also a registered nurse at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks. Her childhood dream of wanting to help people has culminated in a career with more than 20 years of civilian and military experience in the medical community.
Howerton is used to a challenge, having worked long days caring for patients in uniform overseas. But she says it doesn’t stack up when compared to the daily challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no comparison,” she said. “The lack of information with this new virus changes everything. This is uncharted territory for military and civilian alike.”
It’s not just during the workday that Howerton faces down challenges. Her husband, Lt. Col. Troy Howerton, 188th Mission Support Group vice commander, is playing the role of lead educator and father.
“Thankfully, we have wonderful supervisors and leaders in the 188th who are understanding and have been gracious enough to allow my husband to work a flex schedule,” said Capt. Howerton. “They will never know how much it means to us. We couldn’t do this without them.”
“We do not have family who live close to help with childcare,” she said. “Due to having an essential occupation, I am expected to be at work every day.”
The one advantage dual-military families like the Howertons have is the ability to adapt to changing situations and disrupted routines. Their two young sons are adjusting to their new “normal” with ease – after talking it over with their parents.
“Initially, I did not talk about COVID-19 with my children because I didn’t want them to be worried,” said Capt. Howerton. “But as the situation got worse and the virus made its way closer to home, I knew I would have to speak to them about it because our routine would somewhat change.”
One of the biggest changes the kids had to get used to was not getting hugs from their mom when she arrived home from work.
“I change clothes and shoes before I leave work to go home and bag the scrubs I wore for the day,” Capt. Howerton said. “As soon as I get home, I take my other shoes off at the door, wash the scrubs in hot water and go shower. After all of that is completed, we can go back to ‘normal.’”
Although she takes all those precautions, Captain Howerton concedes life will never be truly normal until COVID-19 is gone.
“Our 7-year-old son has moderate, persistent asthma,” she said. “Every day, I go home and wonder if this is the day I may have contracted COVID-19 and could be bringing it home to my family.”
She offers this advice for anyone wanting to help service members and health care workers in this fight:
“Stay home if you can and think of others. Reach out over the phone to our Airmen. Make sure they are OK. Help them reach out to their supervisor if needed. Remember, we are all in this together.”