LOS ANGELES - When Spc. Brenstein Ragay first arrived at the California State University Community Vaccination Center he said it was a surreal experience to work just 20 minutes away from where he grew up. He hadn’t considered the possibility that he would get the chance to administer this life-saving vaccine not only to his community, but to those closest to him.
“You [can] just see the relief in their eyes and how much they appreciate it,” said Ragay “It's not just my family, it's complete strangers that feel that way for you.”
The first week was difficult, but there were expectations of “growing pains” he said.
It’s the nature of being the first on the ground and getting the vaccination mission done.
“The soldiers with whom I work with and myself are no strangers to long hours in the workday,” said Ragay “so I feel the camaraderie and rapport is already there.”
Ragay says he was communicating with his family when he arrived, but it wasn’t until the site started to get up and running that he realized that his parents and grandparents were eligible for the vaccine. He helped put them in the system and it turned out they qualified to be vaccinated on site at Cal State.
“So the time came. They said, ‘Hey, we're in lane nine.’ I went to the lane NCO over there and I asked him, ‘My family's in this lane. Can I go vaccinate them?’”
The NCO in charge of lane nine was Sgt. Tyler Hull, a combat medic that had served with Ragay in a previous unit before being deployed together to the vaccination site. Hull said he remembered Ragay as a hardworking and extremely motivated soldier.
“I'm not going to say no to somebody taking care of their family,” said Hull. “Because family is extremely important, and it means more to the soldier when they do take care of their family.”
After Ragay vaccinated his father and grandmother, he said they were “to the moon” and that being his grandma’s only grandson made the experience that much more special for the both of them. Ragay was able to schedule appointments for his mother and uncle in the following days.
Ragay joined the Army in February of 2017 and currently serves with the 4th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division in Fort Carson Colorado. Love for his fellow man is what prompted him to reenlist in the army as a combat medic, but Ragay says he finds his sense of pride in continuing the legacy of service set forth by his grandfather’s service during World War II.
Ragay’s grandfather served as a Philippine Scout in the U.S. Army during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. After being left without vital supplies and suffering from disease, U.S. and Filipino soldiers, including his grandfather, were forced to surrender.
American and Filipino soldiers were made prisoners of war and ultimately subjected to the Bataan Death March. A brutal display of inhumanity that killed nearly 30 percent of the soldiers who made the six-day, 65-mile march to Camp O'Donnell where it is estimated that 26,000 Filipinos and 1,500 Americans died (Norman et. al., 2020). Ragay’s grandfather remarkably survived the march to Camp O’Donnell and the camp itself until it’s liberation by American forces in 1945.
“His service earned our family citizenship to the United States of America,” said Ragay. “I enlisted into the U.S. Army in 2017 with acknowledgement, respect, and a sense of duty to the United States of America for its shared history with the Philippines and my family.”
Ragay says his family has given their all to raise him, and their hard labor was realized when he was able to give back to them in this capacity. He finds his roots in his grandfather’s service and serving the community his family calls home is an honor made possible by his grandfather’s sacrifice.
“[I feel] truly honored,” says Ragay. “I feel like I've actually done something with my life. I'm happy to be out here, it's all very important to me, it's just pride, you know? Pride to be able to do this. [I’m] proud to serve my country, and my community as well.”
Norman, Michael and Norman, Elizabeth M.. "Bataan Death March". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Oct. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Bataan-Death-March. Accessed 27 February 2021.
Bataan Memorial Death March, 21 Jan. 2021, bataanmarch.com/