Five Years On Health First’s Ginny Garner Recalls Tragedy, Calls to Mind Lessons Around Readiness

By  //  November 17, 2022

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Ginny Garner is a Health First Vice President of Nursing and a U.S. Air Force Colonel

VIRGINIA “GINNY” GARNER is a Health First Vice President of Nursing and a U.S. Air Force Colonel, retired. In 2017, she was group commander in charge of Mike O’Callaghan Military Medical Center, a teaching hospital with about 1,600 military and civilian staff, part of the 99th Medical Group, 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base. (Image for Space Coast Daily)

A Health First VP of Nursing recalls her previous role as Group Commander of Military Medical Center in Las Vegas during the deadliest shooting spree in recent history.

Virginia “Ginny” Garner had nieces at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival on the night of Oct. 1, 2017. A panicking phone call from one of them is what tipped her to the kind of night she was going to have.

The shooting erupted just after 10 p.m. that night. Jason Aldean was wrapping up his set and the festival. Just two years earlier, the shooter, a 64-year-old, was living in a gated retirement community in Viera. From a hotel room 32 stories up, he fired more than 1,000 rounds, killing 60 and injuring hundreds of concertgoers.

Today, Ginny is a Health First Vice President of Nursing and a U.S. Air Force Colonel, retired. Then, she was Group Commander in charge of Mike O’Callaghan Military Medical Center, a teaching hospital with about 1,600 military and civilian staff, part of the 99th Medical Group, 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base.

VIRGINIA “GINNY” GARNER, Vice President of Nursing, Health First, was an active-duty Group Commander in the 99th Air Wing at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas five years ago when the deadliest mass shooting in recent history took place. (Health First image)

“That was a long night trying to figure out where everyone was. While assisting my nieces, I was asking, are any airmen hurt? That’s when we heard the good-news stories.”

What followed the shooting, she says, was a tremendous and spontaneous military assistance in the city. Some of her airmen were at the Aldean concert and immediately rendered aid. Others suited up and began assisting at the medical centers.

“The Air Force had a relationship with several civilian medical centers in Las Vegas, including the Level I Trauma Center, University Medical Center, because we had training affiliation agreements. An alert went out, and our folks went to UMC.”

Incredibly, Ginny and other leaders had coordinated a mass-casualty exercise just two days prior.

“These airmen were drawing on the skills we drilled on two days ago, and now they’re rendering aid. Over at UMC, about half of the surgeons treating the wounded were Air Force surgeons from my facility.

“Because we were trying to maintain combat readiness, we ended up helping our community out in this tragedy.”

VIRGINIA “GINNY” GARNER, Vice President of Nursing, Health First, center, was an active-duty Group Commander in the 99th Air Wing at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas five years ago when the deadliest mass shooting in recent history took place. (Health First image)

Hero of Military Medicine

When she reflects on the moment, she says, there are three things she carries away from it.

■ Enemies Abroad, and Domestic. “In the military, we frequently think of our risks during deployment, that’s why we maintain readiness. You don’t think of that readiness piece being important in your backyard.”
■ Building Muscle Memory. “It really highlights the importance of having those skills honed on a regular basis so that it becomes muscle memory.”
■ Partnerships. “We were just one hospital among many in the city of Las Vegas, but because of the partnerships we had with many of them, we were a benefit to our community when they needed us most. I knew the leadership teams at other hospitals, and it was easy to plug right in, and in an agile way respond to this event.”

About six months later, because of the efforts of her Airmen, Ginny’s 99th Medical Group was named a Hero of Military Medicine.  Of that group honor, the retired Colonel says of her men and women, “I was a leader, but the Airmen were the heroes.”

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VIRGINIA “GINNY” GARNER is a Health First Vice President of Nursing and a U.S. Air Force Colonel, retired. In 2017, she was group commander in charge of Mike O’Callaghan Military Medical Center, a teaching hospital with about 1,600 military and civilian staff, part of the 99th Medical Group, 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base. (Image for Space Coast Daily)
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