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Austin Praises 'Whole-of-Government, All-of-Nation' Effort Against COVID-19

Feb. 25, 2021 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Service members are making a true contribution to their fellow citizens at the "mega-vaccination center" at California State University Los Angeles, said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.

In front of a large building, a man dressed in a business suit stands facing a man dressed in civilian clothes and people in military uniforms.
Austin Visit
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, center left, speaks to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, with back to the camera, and military leaders at California State University Los Angeles where the military has set up a mega vaccination site that delivers 6,000 shots a day, Feb. 24, 2021.
Photo By: Jim Garamone, DOD
VIRIN: 210224-D-FN314-001

Austin visited the site yesterday and said he was impressed by the organization, zeal and commitment of all those working to inoculate Californians. California has suffered the most COVID-19 deaths of any state in the U.S. Even as the vaccines rolled out late last year, the state experienced a surge in coronavirus cases. Out of more than 500,000 Americans who have died from the virus, more than 48,000 were from California.

Austin approved the deployment of an active-duty team to Los Angeles to help get vaccines in arms, and a 222-member group of service members was formed around the Army's 299th Engineer Company from Fort Carson, Colorado. Last week, the unit joined Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel, California National Guardsmen and state and city health officials. Within a week, they were inoculating 6,000 Angelenos a day.

Before arriving in Los Angeles, Austin stopped in Colorado to talk to the leaders of the U.S. Northern Command, which is spearheading the DOD's effort to combat the disease. After arriving in Los Angeles, he spoke to the news media in the parking lot of the university, which has been transformed into a drive-thru vaccination hub.

A female soldier wearing a face mask leans into the window of a vehicle.
Appointment Check
Army Pfc. Aracely Quintana confirms a patient's vaccination appointment at California State University Los Angeles, Feb. 20, 2021. Quintana is a combat engineer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
Photo By: Army Capt. Daniel Parker
VIRIN: 210220-A-UQ561-8560

Austin praised Northcom for its plan, saying it has been incredibly effective in a short period of time. "When you take a look at this, it makes you proud to be an American," he said.

Many of the soldiers serving in Los Angeles — both active duty and guardsmen — wear combat patches. These women and men have served around the world trying to make things better for oppressed populations, Austin said. They work building health systems in Afghanistan or Iraq or the Horn of Africa. They also provided security in those nations. 

But this is different. "I asked a number of our troops today how they feel about being able to come here and help you in America, understanding that every shot that they deliver to a person is probably helping to save that person's life, eventually, and that's a big deal," he said. "We're in the business of protecting Americans and saving lives, and they feel really good about what they've been doing." 

Californians have welcomed the service members and local officials said they're pleased the effort has been so successful.

"I've talked to some of our local officials and civilian agency heads, and they've told me that [what] the military brings to this equation is discipline, organizational skills and effectiveness," Austin said. "They were impressed by the fact that, every day, our troops take a look at things and endeavor to get better. They know good is not good enough. And, so, they've started in one place and, over … a very short period of time, increased the capacity in ways that we probably couldn't have envisioned."

A soldier wearing a face mask looks at an electronic tablet while a motorist waits in a vehicle
Vaccination Appointment
Army Spc. Tyler Fernandez verifies a motorist's vaccination appointment at California State University Los Angeles, Feb. 20, 2021. Fernandez is a geospatial intelligence imagery analyst assigned to Delta Company, 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. Northern Command, through Army North, remains committed to supporting the government's pandemic response.
Photo By: Army Capt. Daniel Parker
VIRIN: 210220-A-UQ561-8532

Austin toured the site, which includes a walk-up vaccination area. People were socially distanced as they cued up. A young Air Force sergeant said it's about a 24-minute process from the time a person enters the facility to the mandatory 15 minutes  they must wait after receiving the shot.

Around 2,000 people a day are vaccinated at the walk-up site. The drive-thru site, which allows people to receive the shots in their cars, also runs like clockwork.

"Here you see the evidence of what organization and teamwork and discipline brings to the equation," the secretary said.

A sign on the floor points the way to COVID-19 vaccines as a service member walks down some stairs.
First Dose
Military personnel from across Oahu line up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Feb. 17, 2021. Marines in Hawaii are receiving the voluntary COVID-19 vaccine to protect their health and support the overall readiness of forces garrisoned at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Brandon Aultman
VIRIN: 210217-M-VH951-1004A
Three women wearing face masks sit at a table using syringes to draw fluid from small bottles.
Preparing Vaccines
Navy medical personnel prepare COVID-19 vaccines at Bloch Arena on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, Feb. 10, 2021. Service members voluntarily received the vaccination in an effort to increase unit readiness and ensure the safety of fellow service members.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Danny Nateras
VIRIN: 210210-M-JS192-1025

Austin was told that a soldier from the neighborhood was able to give his mother a vaccination. "The ability to do things like that, I think, … it really makes a difference," he said. "And our troops find this to be a very meaningful deployment."

Austin said a "whole-of-government, all-of-nation effort" was necessary to combat COVID-19, requiring facilities and personnel from all levels of government.