Photo By Sgt. Terry Rajsombath | Sgt. Blake Costa, Medical Operations non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) for Task Force Guardian, assigned to the 1-103rd Field Artillery Battalion, stands for a photo on April 27, 2020, Warwick, R.I. Costa’s role is to advise senior officers, provide guidance for subordinate task forces while managing the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the entire Rhode Island National Guard. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Terry Rajsombath)

Story by Sgt. Terry Rajsombath, Joint Force Headquarters, Rhode Island National Guard 

“I think that’s what’s really made me the medic I am today,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Blake Costa, medical section noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC), for the 1-103rd Field Artillery. “Just the exposure to nonstop trauma.”

In the midst of COVID-19, Costa serves as the Medical Operations NCOIC for Task Force Guardian, a role that is normally held by an officer or senior noncommissioned officer (NCO).

“Most of the people in these roles are usually captains and majors and as far as enlisted, they’re usually E-7s and E-8s,” said Costa. “I think the only people I outrank here are the cleaning crew.”

As an E-5, what qualifies Costa to serve as a medical advisor to the Joint Task Force Guardian commander is his extensive medical field history in and out of uniform.

Prior to joining the National Guard, Costa served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an embassy guard. During the 2008 Islamabad Marriot bombing in Pakistan, he took part in rescue efforts which spurred his passion for medicine.

“I wasn’t a medic…it was my first medical exposure and I did a lot of hands on stuff to help with the mass casualty events.”

In 2013, Costa enlisted into the National Guard to become a medic. After qualifying, he made his way to Maryland where he worked as an emergency room (ER) technician at the Georgetown Emergency Department during the Ebola outbreak.

“A team of us were put together to be an Ebola response team,” said Costa. “We had to manage a patient that came into Georgetown that was suspected of having Ebola. A lot of that was similar to the precautions that we’re taking here.”

Following the Ebola outbreak, for several years, Costa continued to work as an ER technician. During the 2015 Baltimore riots, Costa was assigned to the western police district and worked at the world renowned, University of Maryland Medical Shock Trauma Center. There he was introduced to many of the best physicians from around the world and was recruited to work as a shock trauma technician.

After years of working as emergency technician and shock trauma technician, Costa volunteered his time and service in Haiti where he was able to put all of his knowledge and skills to the test.

“I went out to Haiti for about three weeks, helped them reorganize their ER and then worked with an American doctor and two American nurses,” said Costa. “It was just a constant exposure to a wide variety of acuity patients.”

Costa said his experience in Haiti put his medical skills to the test, developing him into the medic and leader he is today; giving him a different perspective for the way he attacks problems.

“With trauma, it’s a lot of on your feet thinking,” said Costa. “I got to observe and work with physicians and nurses, identify issues that are life threatening and only have minutes if not seconds to address and correct a problem for a person to live.”

Costa’s ability to remain calm and think on his feet has once again placed him in a position for potential great impact on the health and welfare of service members and community members throughout the state.

Costa said that he acknowledges his role as Med. Ops. NCOIC can be challenging but that he doesn’t find his job overwhelming. He said he’s proud of the Rhode Island National Guard’s response to COVID-19.

“This whole thing has been solving one problem after another,” said Costa. “But I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of it. When you look at what the Rhode Island National Guard has accomplished, I think we’re doing a phenomenal job. Our state Civil Support Team (CST) expanded from a team of 26 to 226. To be able to go out and execute these testing missions with limited resources has been nothing short of impressive. Task Force Care is an artillery unit and they’re getting ready to go out and train nursing home staff on everything from PPE use, decon to testing. Task Force Support, is lead by an aviation and infantry officer. All these task forces have come together to make this state, in my opinion, one of the best states in the nation to respond to COVID.”

“This whole thing has been solving one problem after another, but I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of it,” said Costa. “When you look at what the Rhode Island National Guard has accomplished, I think we’re doing a phenomenal job.”

The various task forces that stood up in support of the response to COVID-19 are made of RING soldiers and airmen from multiple professions. They are working together bringing their unique skillsets, learning from each other and training others on everything from the proper use of personal protective equipment to COVID-19 testing technique.

“All these task forces have come together to make this state, in my opinion, one of the best states in the nation to respond to COVID.”