Fort Carson soldiers are hearing heartfelt thanks and witnessing tears of gratitude as they help administer vaccinations at a COVID-19 super site in Los Angeles.
More than 200 soldiers with the post's 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, are in their second week of injecting the Pfizer vaccine into the arms of roughly 6,000 people each day at the California State University, Los Angeles campus.
The site is co-run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State of California through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
“This is a historic task,” said Diana Crofts-Pelayo, communications chief for the state agency.
Earlier this month the Biden administration and California Gov. Gavin Newsom worked together to bring two massive community-focused vaccination sites to life.
“In East Los Angeles there were no services for people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, especially those most at risk and most vulnerable,” Crofts-Pelayo said.
Assisting state and federal civilian authorities, the Fort Carson soldiers and National Guard troops are conducting the vaccinations under the direction of U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, which provides Pentagon help in civilian emergencies.
“I can’t overemphasis how historic this is,” Crofts-Pelayo said.
Fort Carson troops have been involved in the military's fight against coronavirus since last winter, when soldiers from the post were set to establish an emergency hospital at a football stadium in Seattle. The latest deployment is a first since it involves a unit outside the medical field.
The inoculation site in Los Angeles opened February 16 and has the capacity to vaccinate 6,000 people daily. Los Angeles County healthcare workers and those over 65 may make appointments.
Vaccines can’t come soon enough. More than 50,000 Californians have died from the coronavirus.
Crofts-Pelayo noted that area hospitals are understaffed and often at capacity. She said she's extremely grateful for the support Fort Carson soldiers are providing.
“They are fighting an invisible enemy,” she said. “They are using needles and shots to combat against the enemy. We wouldn’t be able to do this mission without them.”
That’s good news for Maj. Ryan Baum, operations officer for the Fort Carson battalion, who was tasked with integrating Fort Carson’s soldiers into the state-run operation.
“I see this as an extremely unique opportunity for active-duty service members to serve the community of East L.A.,” he said. “We couldn’t be more proud to do so. Our soldiers are doing a phenomenal job in achieving the states goal.”
“The local population that comes through here could not be more welcoming or gracious in the support that we provide.”
Roughly 150 of the Fort Carson soldiers are medical staff and are actively administering the vaccine.
Spc. Rick Stark, 20, a fifth-generation Coloradan and 2019 Cheyenne Mountain High School graduate, works a drive-through lane putting vaccines in arms.
The combat medic said he's enjoyed witnessing the emotional impact getting the vaccine has had on some people.
“COVID in the past year has affected all of us, especially the local population here in Los Angeles,” Stark said during a phone interview Thursday. “I’ve seen people literally break down in tears because they were so happy to get the vaccine. It really does mean a lot to me. It’s why I joined the Army, to help people.”