Robert Griffin: One of Oklahoma’s Front-Line Warriors
Vol.6 Issue 3
Griffin serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Medical Group of his Oklahoma Air National Guard.
Robert Griffin (middle) pictured with two of his colleagues in the Office of Facility Management (AMP) at an Aeronautical Center event.

America is engaged in a battle against a silent and deadly enemy, one that attacks indiscriminately. No one has been left untouched by this ruthless enemy known as the coronavirus COVID-19. Thousands of men and women from our country’s Armed Forces, as well as numerous health care workers are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to help combat the disease. Many are working across the country to provide medical, logistical, and transportation support in response to this pandemic.

One of the Aeronautical Center’s employees, Robert Griffin, who works in the Office of Facility Management as an Environmental Protection Specialist, knows first-hand about working on the front lines. Griffin’s experience in public health extends back to 2002. His expertise lies in bio-crisis and public health preparedness. In addition to being a National Guardsman aiding in military medical leadership, Griffin confesses, "I’m an ’old dog’ in preparedness. We’ve been in some sort of conflict for 20 years."

Griffin serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Medical Group of his Oklahoma Air National Guard (OKANG) Wing as a Public Health Officer. In this position, he performs a wide range of roles and responsibilities including working as an epidemiological investigator, evaluating communicable diseases and making recommendations for containment. Also acting as a local public health liaison, Griffin coordinates efforts with public health agencies to ensure implementation of a total, integrated public health program. His experience as an Active Air Force member had him responding to both the SARS and Ebola outbreaks.

Griffin enlisted in the Active Duty Air Force when he was just 18, right after graduating from high school. After serving 4 years in Active Duty, he transitioned to the OKANG and has served there ever since. Having nearly 30 years of military experience under his belt, Griffin states, "I commissioned as a Public Health Officer after 14 years of being enlisted, and found a way to use both my education and my military experience to serve my country."

Robert Griffin, deployed to the desert in 2005.

The Federal Aviation Administration, and especially the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, continue to benefit from Griffin’s knowledge and expertise during these unprecedented times. Griffin joined the FAA in 2016 after working in civil service for the United States Air Force and working for the Oklahoma State Department of Health for 6 years as a bio-terrorism response coordinator.

His work in the Office of Facility Management consists of managing the Center’s hazardous, biological, and radiological materials programs and these experiences have uniquely prepared him for the coronavirus response. Robert states, "As the Environmental Compliance person, I am used to responding to incidents such as spills or other environmental issues. The training for this job requires handling and disposing of hazardous materials, which has a lot of regulations and guidance in order to keep everyone safe." He adds, "This situation has some similar features, in that we are all trying to apply guidance that is being developed as the situation changes in order to keep everyone safe. It is fortunate that I can bring together all that I have learned in my career to support the Aeronautical Center."

Griffin’s work experience is exceptional in helping to lead the fight against the coronavirus, as he actively works with response efforts at the local, state, and national levels. Concurrently working for the FAA and the OKANG, Griffin works by day for the FAA and spends his evenings teleconferencing with the OKANG to coordinate their emergency response. As a member of the FAA’s coronavirus Incident Management Team (IMT) operating under the Office of Finance and Management (AFN) and the Aeronautical Center, Griffin explains, "We’re handling requests for information as issues come up within the Agency. It’s a team effort. It’s a whole group of professionals from their different lines of business." Griffin insists that this virus is "very different," and that the "speed with which it has come on has made it very difficult for agencies to respond."

When asking Griffin about how to navigate this global pandemic and stay healthy he suggests, "It is important to listen to the advice and direction of the [FAA], the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and leaders in Washington D.C. to protect yourself and the vulnerable people around you. It is important to take this seriously, but at the same time, look at this as a chance to refocus on things that you wouldn’t normally get to do because of the day-to-day routines that we have. I am not a medical professional, but I think it is important to take care of yourself, stay active in safe ways, and do things that bring you joy. All of this helps with the stress of the situation." Griffin and his own family are taking steps to protect themselves. "My family and I are practicing social distancing, getting out only when we need to, and making sure to wash hands as we go places or interact with people."

Griffin is married with two sons, ages 12 and 15. The pandemic has changed some aspects of their family life. "With school and sports activities cancelled, we are doing new things. We play games and cards, watch movies together, and my oldest is learning to drive. We like to go fishing as a family at the lake. "We eat dinner a lot together since the schedule allows it. We are just slowing down," emphasizes Griffin.

He reflects on the lessons he and his family have learned through this experience. "I would like to be sure that we take time in the future to slow down together as a family. As a public health professional, it is important to reflect and think about how to prepare and what exercises we might need to incorporate so we are ready for next time. You can’t let the fear of the next event drive you so that you aren’t living your life, but we can learn from this and perhaps respond more quickly if something like this happens again." Despite the fact that the coronavirus is still ravaging our nation, with many sick, and many more in quarantine, Griffin remains optimistic about the outcome in the fight, "I think we’ll get through this. America always comes out on top. You’ve got to have a little hope. You have to come with a positive attitude. As long as you’re putting those efforts in, then you know that you’re doing it for the greater good."

Currently, there are more than 17,000 Army National Guard and Air National Guard members involved in this fight against the pandemic. Guard members serve in a unique role since these men and women are both military members and they serve as civilians in all sectors of their communities. The FAA employs 370 National Guard members across the nation and Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center (MMAC) employs 36 National Guard members. We are grateful for their dedication and selflessness.

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