Roberto DeMarquez resumes his civilian job at OUC as a Continuous Improvement Coordinator.

For Roberto DeMarquez, re-entry didn’t just mean returning to his workspace on the 10th floor of Reliable Plaza. It meant going back to his civilian job as an OUC Continuous Improvement Coordinator after serving 18 months on the front lines of Florida’s battle against COVID-19.

A lieutenant colonel in the Florida Army National Guard, DeMarquez was on duty from March 15, 2020, until Sept. 30, 2021, serving in three Florida cities as the commander of the 927th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. The deployment exceeded by one month his activation for a tour in Afghanistan in 2005-06. DeMarquez also served a year in Iraq, in 2010.

His recent call of duty took him to Miami-Dade County for a six month deployment that began on almost the same day OUC ordered about 60% of its workforce to work from home as a safety precaution. On Sept. 13, 2021, OUC implemented a hybrid work schedule, with office employees working two days on site.

When his deployment began in March 2020, Lt. Col. Roberto DeMarquez led a National Guard unit that administered COVID tests at drive-up sites in Miami-Dade County.

While in South Florida, DeMarquez’ unit, which includes doctors and nurses, administered COVID tests at drive-up sites (click here to read that story). After completing that mission, the 927th was sent to Camp Blanding Joint Training Center near Starke for six months. There DeMarquez’ scope of responsibility grew to overseeing 11 Central Florida COVID testing sites run by Florida National Guard.

After a year of being away from home, DeMarquez returned to Orlando for what would be his final six-month engagement in the state’s war against COVID, or so he hopes. This time he oversaw a state logistics response center, from which personal protective equipment, medical supplies, tents and chairs, and other items were distributed to COVID testing and vaccine sites under his command. His unit also shipped ventilators to healthcare systems when COVID-related hospitalizations soared over the summer of 2021 as the delta variant spread among mostly the unvaccinated.

While he was glad to be back in his own bed at night, DeMarquez remained on Army time, working 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week.

“My soliders tested a million people and administered 500,000 vaccine shots. We went to churches and brought vaccines to people,” he said.

A couple times during the deployment, DeMarquez said he got his hopes up that Florida had gotten the pandemic under control, only to see it hadn’t.

“In June we thought were going to be done, and we started to let a lot of people go home,” he said. “Then delta hit.”

DeMarquez said he never contracted COVID, but many of his soldiers did while serving in the field.

While he was away from his OUC job, DeMarquez said he kept in touch with Maggie Burdette, Manager of Business Process Improvement, and checked his emails when he had time. A U.S. Navy veteran, Burdette knows the demands of military service and appreciates DeMarquez’ commitment to serve.

“We knew Roberto could be called up at any moment when he was hired in 2018; he even pointed this out during his interview. I chose to come to OUC because they accommodate employees who are activated for military service,” said Burdette. “Soldiers like him deserve our gratitude and respect for the sacrifices they make for our country.”

DeMarquez, who has been in the Guard 25 years and plans to stay in for years to come, said he saw his deployment as a “historic mission,” given his unit wasn’t sent abroad to fight but instead stationed on home turf to combat an invisible enemy.

“I’m proud to serve our country and our state, and the people of our state. I think everybody in my unit was very proud to be on this deployment,” he said. “We all had to put our families and lives and civilian jobs on hold. We carry out our mission whether it’s close to home or thousands of miles away. That’s the commitment you make when you sign up to serve your country.”