When natural disasters strike, Roberto DeMarquez can go from everyday civilian to military officer in a moment’s notice. Now add pandemic to his list of activations.
On March 15, DeMarquez let OUC know he would have to put his job as a Continuous Improvement Coordinator on hold for an indefinite period of time. A Lieutenant Colonel in the Florida Army National Guard, DeMarquez was activated as commander of the 927th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and deployed to Miami-Dade County, a coronavirus hot zone.
There his unit is serving on the front lines of Florida’s effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Serving in the field alongside him are doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who are administering COVID-19 swabbing tests at two drive-up sites in Miami. They are among the 500 soldiers mobilized from his unit to South Florida in support of the 927th’s mission.
Being stationed in a coronavirus zone, DeMarquez says the thought of being exposed to the virus is always in the back of his mind. “We’re all at risk in South Florida,” he says of the soldiers deployed with him. “We all have personal protective equipment and practice social distancing. Hand sanitizers are everywhere. I think I’ve already lost a layer of skin by continually applying hand sanitizer on my hands,” he says.
Over his 20-year career with the Guard, he’s been activated for nine hurricane relief efforts and two wars – Iraq (2010) and Afghanistan (2005).
“The Florida Guard has responded to four hurricane responses in the last four years and that training has set us up for success on this mission,” he says. “With hurricanes, the deployments can be intense but they’re usually over in a couple weeks, and combat tours are for a year. You know when you’re going home. But we don’t know how long this mission will last. Certainly there is a need for us to be here and provide relief to local medical facilities and health care professionals before they become overwhelmed by this virus outbreak.”
As the battalion commander, DeMarquez oversees the 927th ’s field operations and all their moving parts. “Our success is based on the people I lead more than anything. I make sure they’ve got everything they need for this effort.”
His military training complements his role at OUC. As a Continuous Improvement Coordinator on the Strategy, Continuous Improvement & Data Analytics team, DeMarquez improves our processes ― everything from solving complex operational challenges to designing more efficient ways for our systems and administrative processes to work. In a nutshell, he offers an objective viewpoint on how to simplify and make things easier.
Maggie Burdette, Manager of Business Process Improvement, remembers the day DeMarquez interviewed for the job two years ago. “He impressed on us that he is in the National Guard and it’s a priority for him to serve,” she says. “He wanted us to be knowledgeable of who we were hiring.”
Burdette understood his commitment to duty; she served 10 years in the U.S. Navy.
“We have no idea when he’s coming back,” she says. “But when he does he’ll have a job waiting for him and he’ll pick up where he left off. What he’s doing in the Guard he’s doing for all of us, not for himself.”
As a citizen solider, DeMarquez accepts the disruptions that come with being activated in times of crisis. They are a small price to pay for serving his country.
“I believe in our country and our way of life,” he says. “It takes people to commit to preserving that and I believe in the principles our country is founded on. That’s why I serve.”