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RIC alumna Joanne Barrett ’13

As the world's scientists are scrambling to discover a vaccine for COVID-19, Joanne Barrett '13, a captain in the Rhode Island Air National Guard (RIANG), is fastidiously working to ensure that an approved vaccine will be distributed among RIANG's 3,000 members and potentially 12,000 essential workers in Rhode Island. 

In her role, Barrett, a 20-year RIANG veteran, says she leads a team devising a new system to document the administration of the vaccine at three sites across the state.

"It's a big job," she says, noting that the position, which she assumed in May, required a crash course in administrative and computer skills. "I'm responsible for making sure medics are trained to immunize and that vaccinations are up to date among RIANG personnel prior to being deployed. The administrative and computer work is a bit out of my realm but I'm excited. I'm more of a hands-on type who relates to people better than computers."

The RIANG called up Barrett on COVID orders in May, temporarily taking her away from her position as an attendant care nurse at the Providence Veteran Affairs Medical Center, where she's worked for 11 years.

"My supervisor, who was also in the Air National Guard, has been very supportive," she says.

Lisa Levasseur, the interim assistant director of veteran affairs and military programs at Rhode Island College, says Barrett is a perfect fit for the leadership role and has risen rapidly through the RIANG ranks.

"I've known Joanne since she enlisted," Levasseur says. "It's very significant and not an easy task to study and test to become an officer while balancing a family and working. She has the drive to succeed and is the kind of individual who lights up a room with her personality, making sure other people are connecting."

Levasseur says Barrett, whose mother passed away when she was young, was inspired by a cousin to enlist in the RIANG.

"She wanted to emulate him," Levasseur says.

Barrett also figured that enlisting would help finance her college degree.

"Entering the military gave me stability,'' says Barrett, who undergoes annual field and medical training to stay prepared for potential war duty. "I also enjoy the structure within the military because I'm a structured person."

As a nurse at the VA, Barrett says working with veterans brings her joy, especially since she's a veteran herself. In 2006, she was deployed to Qatar in the Middle East.

"Veteran's Day is every day to me," she says. "I wouldn't want it any other way. When the observance of Veteran's Day rolls around in November, it's good to give honor to veterans still here and those who are gone. That makes me proud. I'm the type of person who gets goose bumps every time I see the (American) flag."

Barrett, a married mother of two young boys who lives in Coventry, says she was on the brink of retiring from the RIANG before being called up for this latest opportunity.

"I'm about to attain status as a major so I think I will stay enlisted about three more years," she says. "COVID-19 has definitely changed everything."