Feature   Defense News

Sailor Overcomes COVID-19 Twice, Deploys to Boston to Battle Virus

April 27, 2021 | BY Army Capt. Jennifer Pendleton

"Once bitten, twice shy," is an expression reserved for those who prefer to avoid reminders of negative experiences. However, one Virginia-based sailor isn't shy about battling COVID-19 after surviving two rounds with it.  

A sailor wearing a face mask poses in front of a COVID-19 vaccination banner.
Vaccine Response
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Rafal Kolodziej, assigned to Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1, provides logistical support at the Hynes Convention Center COVID-19 Community Vaccine Center in Boston, April 19, 2021. Service members from across the country are deployed in support of the Defense Department federal vaccine response.
Photo By: Army Capt. Jennifer Pendleton
VIRIN: 210419-A-VD035-733

For Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Rafal Kolodziej, assigned to Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1, or NCHB-1, the fight is personal. He tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies in March of 2020, when cases first began to emerge among service members. He was recovering from fever, pneumonia and headaches the month prior. 

"I felt a little safer knowing I'd already been through COVID-19," he said of his experience last year while assigned as an instructor at Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois. 

Unfortunately, for the Lublin, Poland, native, COVID-19 proved to be a formidable adversary. Despite strict mitigation measures implemented by the Defense Department in 2020, he fell victim to the virus again in November.  

A sailor wearing a face mask documents info for a vaccine.
Vaccination Center
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Desmond Jackson, assigned to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., documents a community member’s information before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at the Hynes Convention Center COVID-19 Community Vaccine Center in Boston, April 2, 2021.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Matthew Lumagui
VIRIN: 210402-A-AW454-017C

His second go-around with the disease was much different; this time, the infection manifested through a loss of sense of smell and taste. The sailor's suspicions were confirmed following another test. 

"It was scary," Kolodjiez said. "So many people have been hospitalized and so many have died already. I think of my father, who fought off cancer, and of all the vulnerable people out there. Not everyone is as lucky as me to survive." 

Thankfully, the sailor's family have thus far been spared from COVID-19, and he said he feels mostly recovered.  

Despite these personal health setbacks, Kolodziej's dedication to selfless service hasn't faltered. Almost a year after he was first diagnosed, he returned to duty and transferred to NCHB-1 in Williamsburg, Virgina, in early March 2021. Within days of arriving at his new assignment, he would be deployed as a part of the DOD's support mission to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's whole-of-government COVID-19 vaccination effort.  

A sailor wearing a face mask guides patients to vaccination lines.
COVID-19 Vaccine
Navy Seaman Xolanyer Mirandacastillo, assigned to Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1, guides community members to vaccination lines at the Hynes Convention Center COVID-19 Community Vaccine Center in Boston, April 2, 2021.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Matthew Lumagui
VIRIN: 210402-A-AW454-785C

The battalion has been working out of the Hynes Convention Center Community Vaccination Center in Boston for less than a month. In the short time they have been there, more than 100,000 vaccines have been administered to local Bostonians. 

With the number of vaccinations hitting six figures, everyone one in the cargo battalion was excited. 

"We are really excited about this mission," Kolodziej said, "We're here for a really good purpose and feel like we are doing something positive for society."

He also said he is grateful they can lend support to this important undertaking in Boston and is hopeful that even more people will sign up to be vaccinated.