Georgia Army National Guard Sgt. Quantez Harper, left, a junior interior design major at Brenau, at Albany's Pheobe Putney Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Quantez Harper)

Brenau University students called to military duty in fight against virus

Jun 16, 2020
Brenau Staff
Markeyvia Talley
Markeyvia Talley, sophomore marketing major, decontaminates a bedroom in Atlanta. (Photo courtesy of Markeyvia Talley)

When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp activated medical personnel to assist at Albany’s Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, a COVID-19 hotspot, Georgia Army National Guard Sgt. Quantez Harper said he felt compelled to go.

Though the Brenau University junior interior design student is a combat medic experienced in dealing with battlefield trauma — having deployed to Kosovo in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2014 and 2019 — he said COVID-19 is “completely new territory.”

Despite the challenges, Harper said he is motivated by the overwhelming encouragement he and his colleagues have received as they assist with the care and treatment of patients who have tested positive.

“After only my first day in Albany, I could not help but notice and feel the tremendous and unbelievable amount of love and support health care workers have received from the community, state and nation,” Harper said.

Professor Michael Kleeman, who has taught Harper in a number of interior design classes, said he is not surprised by his student’s willingness to step up at such a crucial time.

“As a student, Quantez definitely raises the bar,” Kleeman said. “His background has trained him to be engaging, prepared, eager and excited for any challenge. His selfless work on the COVID front lines is an inspiration to our program and our university, and speaks to the quality and character of our students.”

That includes students like Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Wendy Ehrig, a manager on a military base in San Diego with multiple hospitals and clinics. The hospital corpsman — who earned her MBA from Brenau in 2019 and is working toward her second master’s in organizational leadership from the university — has had to deal with many types of sicknesses, but she said nothing has had an impact like COVID-19.

“This opened everybody’s eyes to the fact that illnesses can happen anywhere,” Ehrig said.

While Ehrig said she does “a bit of everything,” her main focus is on the administrative aspect of the clinic where she is assigned. While most interaction is done virtually through telehealth, she said there are occasions when patients come into the clinics. To protect them and workers, plexiglass barriers have been put up in different areas, screening tables have been set up and patients are asked a series of questions to determine where they are able to go.

If someone comes in with COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever, Ehrig said they are sent to a dedicated COVID clinic in order to avoid contact with others. She makes sure these patients know where they need to go and what they need to do when they get there.

Though Ehrig and her colleagues are all medically trained, she said helping those with COVID-19 has been entirely different than what they are used to because new information is found out about the virus almost daily.

“We train and prepare for war, but this is a war no one was ready for,” she said.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Wendy Ehrig is earning her second master’s degree from Brenau. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Ehrig)

Like Harper and Ehrig, Georgia Army National Guard Spc. Markeyvia Talley is also working to assist those affected by the virus. The sophomore marketing major, along with 13 others, goes into buildings in and around Atlanta such as nursing homes and residences to decontaminate everything inside, including bedrooms.

Talley has to wear a protective suit and mask, and she said there have been several occasions in which she has gone into rooms and people try to charge at her because they don’t know who she is or why she is there.

“They just see my eyes and my nose because of the mask,” she said. “They don’t mean any harm.”

Recently, one of the buildings Talley serviced had about 30 COVID-19 cases.

“It’s a lot to take in, and it tugs at your heart a little bit,” she said. “But at the end of the day, we have to do our jobs.”

Rosanne Short, Brenau’s director of Military and Veteran Services, expressed her admiration for the courage and dedication of students called to military duty in the fight against COVID-19.

“The messages I receive from our students working on medical ships, in temporary hospitals and elsewhere convey exhaustion, hope and concern,” Short said. “They are on the front line of this battle, balancing being away from loved ones, classwork and the emotional toll of seeing the results of this pandemic up close.”