"Bridgewater was the first one I toured, and I loved the campus, something about it felt really good to me."
Connor Beaumont was on track to graduate with his friends last May.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the Massachusetts Army National Guardsman found himself trading his BSU classes for the tough job of assisting some of the state’s most vulnerable residents as the virus raged across the state.
The Dracut native worked from early April to the latter half of May at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, which during the spring was one of the state’s hotspots for COVID-19.
“We provided some very intensive care,” Connor said.
He estimates that of the approximately 240 residents at the home, more than 200 had contracted COVID-19; Connor saw many of them die from it.
The Soldiers’ Home is a health care facility that serves veterans, and Connor was one of approximately 300 medical and logistics personnel from the Air Force and Army National Guard sent to work there. “It meant a lot to us because they’re all veterans, meaning we had a baseline connection with them,” he said. “It was often hard work, but it was important work.” The mission included helping the staff with day-to-day care of the residents.
Connor, who has a passion for music and is a multi-instrumentalist, first thought of attending the University of Lowell’s sound recording technology program. Knowing the competition for jobs in that field could be exceedingly tough, he began checking out possibilities at the state’s other public institutions. “Bridgewater was the first one I toured, and I loved the campus,” he said. “Something about it felt really good to me.”
He became a communication studies major and competed with the track and field squad. Regularly contacted by military recruiters, with an interest in the armed services (he’d considered joining the Marines out of high school) and a proud family heritage of military service, including a grandfather who was a doctor in Vietnam and two great uncles who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, Connor decided to listen to what the recruiters had to say. In the summer of 2018, he joined the Army National Guard out of Worcester.
“When I looked into the Guard, I saw they had more benefits for what I wanted to do at the time than the reserves,” he said. “I didn’t want to go immediately on active duty because I wanted to finish school.” The National Guard allowed him to delay his official entry. His extensive training took many months of sacrifice, as well as many weekends, and included some medical training. When the pandemic hit Massachusetts, Connor was ready to serve.
At first he was stationed in Worcester, where he screened his fellow Guardsmen to make sure they were virus-free before being deployed around the state. Then he got the call to report to the Soldiers’ Home.
After his roughly six weeks on that mission, Connor could have returned to civilian life. But he opted to stay on, and was subsequently sent for three to 10 days at a time during the balance of May and throughout June to four other assisted living facilities across the state, places that also had been hit hard by COVID-19. “I wanted to stay on because I wanted to do my part to help out,” he said.
Knowing he was helping a population in dire need was just one of the rewards of his service. “It was a great experience on the medical side,” Connor said. “A lot of the Army training is pre-hospital and emergency care, we don’t get a lot of experience with direct patient care.”
Now that he’s seen what that’s like, Connor is at a career crossroads. His plan to enter the public relations field is competing with a newfound interest in medicine. His training already qualifies him to work as an EMT. “I’ll have to spend some time making up my mind,” he said.
For his work on the front lines of the pandemic, Connor was promoted in late summer from private first class to specialist. It’s a rank that usually takes two years to attain, but exceptional service can lead to this requirement being waived. The honor was bestowed in a ceremony presided over by Brigadier General John Driscoll.