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Service Members Doing What They Do Best: Serving, Saving

U.S. military history is replete with stories of service members stepping in to save the lives of others. Whether in war or peace, it is second nature for U.S. service members to want to help and protect their fellow citizens.

They are doing the same in the war on COVID-19.

Cars move through a drive-thru vaccination site in California.
Vaccine Ops
Personnel from the Defense Department, National Guard, and state and federal agency partners facilitate vaccine operations at California State University, Los Angeles, Feb. 14, 2021.
Photo By: Army Capt. Daniel Parker
VIRIN: 210217-A-UQ561-8271

Active-duty personnel are working with their National Guard colleagues in California to ensure people get life-saving vaccines. Another team is operating in Texas, and another is beginning to get vaccinated in Pennsylvania. More teams are working in New York, New Jersey, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida. Service members are also scheduled to deploy to Illinois and North Carolina in the coming days.

These teams are working in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and cooperate with local and state authorities.

The 222-member team at the California State University, Los Angeles vaccinates an average of 6,000 people a day. Built around the 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion from Fort Carson, Colorado, the team also contains members from other posts around the Army. The unit contains a command and control element, vaccinators, registered nurses, clinical staff and "general purpose" personnel.

Registered nurse Army 2nd Lt. Taylor Nehlig, from Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, volunteered to oversee four vaccination lanes where people actually get their shots. She is there to monitor the health of those getting inoculated and to ensure her team follows the appropriate protocols. 

A nurse speaks to soldiers.
Vaccine Guidance
Army 2nd Lt. Taylor Nehlig, a medical surgical nurse from Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, provides guidance to soldiers providing COVID vaccinations at California State University Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 14, 2021.
Photo By: Army Capt. Daniel Parker
VIRIN: 210214-A-UQ561-7928

COVID-19 has dominated her military career. "I feel like I've seen actually all three sides of COVID," she said in a recent interview. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, she was swabbing people at her hospital to see if they had the virus. "I've seen people at their most fearful when they're getting swabbed for COVID," she said. 

For the past nine months, the lieutenant worked on the COVID-19 floor at the hospital. "So, I've seen people at their weakest," she said. "The entire time COVID has been a thing, we've been a thing. We've seen some super sick people."

The third side of COVID-19 is the vaccination effort. "Being able to come here and see people in their most joyful moments of getting the vaccine is finally a breath of relief," she said. "It's truly amazing. I'm so happy to be here."

Air National Guard Senior Airman Samantha Campos is another part of the effort. From Ridgecrest, California, her civilian job is as a locksmith for the Navy. Her military job is as an aircraft crew chief at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California. 

Campos was called up for this mission. She said it was her turn to deploy, and she is happy to be there. 

Soldiers direct traffic.
Vaccination Site
Active duty and Army National Guard soldiers prepare to receive a mock, drive-thru vaccine recipient during an exercise at California State University, Los Angeles, Feb. 14, 2021. Now, they are doing the real thing and giving 6,000 vaccinations a day.
Photo By: Army Capt. Daniel Parker
VIRIN: 210214-A-UQ561-8097

She doesn't have a medical background, but she does any job she is asked to do. Her job when interviewed was in the drive-up lines of the vaccinations. She sees the people as they drive into line to receive the shots. "I see them from when they pull up until they leave," she said. "They pull up, and I kind of just hang out. I answer any questions that they have. Sometimes, I have to refer them to the medics."

Some people are visibly nervous, she said, and she does her best to calm them down or distract them. "One lady came in, and she was very afraid of needles," Campos said. "So, I had her roll her passenger-side [window] down, and I just asked her about what color her shoes were," she said. "While she was answering, she got vaccinated, and she was like, 'Oh, I'm done already.' It's pretty fun to interact with everyone here."

Campos went back to work and directed people driving up to get their vaccinations. After receiving the shots, they must stay in place for 15 minutes. At the completion of that time, she waves them through. People waved to Campos as they left. "Thank you, soldier!" one driver yelled to her.

She laughed. "I'm Air Force, sir," she yelled back.

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