AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates --
Staff Sgt. Aubrey J. Eckley, a medical laboratory technician assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Medical Group here, wasn’t expecting to spend time at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, when she originally deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, as part of an immediate response force.
“I was supposed to be over [at Al Udeid] for the refugee evacuation,” Eckley said. “I was supposed to be assisting here 34 days, and now it’s been four months.”
Eckley was forward deployed here in September to augment the laboratory team, short-handed due to the increased volume of COVID-19 testing. Responsible for testing all bodily fluid samples collected from servicemembers from every branch of the U.S. military and their civilian contractors assigned here, the medical lab tests approximately 500 people monthly for COVID-19 alone.
“We keep everyone fit to fight and healthy. Our ability to test for COVID-19 in our lab keeps people moving so they can get to where they’re going and keep fighting,” Eckley said.
Back home, Eckley is pursuing a commission into the inter-service physician assistants’ program, and with her short-notice deployment, she had to cancel two classes she was enrolled in. Instead of letting the disappointment sideline her, she’s taken the time to fulfill some program requirements.
“I was kind of down in the dumps about it, thinking I was going to be set back,” Eckley said. “The [physician assistants] work right around the corner (in the ADAB clinic) so I’ve gotten all my shadowing hours [done.]”
A mother of two young children, Eckley received short notice for her deployment four days before her oldest child’s third birthday. As challenging as the separation from her family has been, she’s seized on the opportunity to learn and grow during her time here. To stay resilient, she enrolled in a master resiliency training course after a colleague gave a briefing on it.
“One of the skills they teach is practicing gratitude and I was like, ‘wow, that’s something I would be passionate about,’” Eckley said. “Now I’m teaching other people and pursuing that.”