Specialist John Michael Rice, a combat medic specialist assigned to 1st Battalion, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), shakes hands with Chap. (Capt.) Matthew Shaw, 1-32nd Cav. Regt., as he walks away from the plane that brought him and more than 200 other Bastogne Soldiers home from their 12-week deployment to Chicago, Illinois.
Specialist John Michael Rice, a combat medic specialist assigned to 1st Battalion, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), shakes hands with Chap. (Capt.) Matthew Shaw, 1-32nd Cav. Regt., as he walks away from the plane that brought him and more than 200 other Bastogne Soldiers home from their 12-week deployment to Chicago, Illinois. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Soldiers from 1st, 2nd and 3rd Brigade Combat Teams who deployed earlier this year to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts in major cities in the United States returned this week after nearly 12 weeks of deployment.

The group totaled more than 500 Soldiers who were deployed to Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; and Orlando, Florida, in support of the larger, whole-of-government approach to combating COVID-19.

They administered 705,000 vaccines and provided other supporting services.

Welcome home

Colonel Robert Born, commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), welcomed his Soldiers back to Fort Campbell as they stepped off the plane.

Before sending them on their way to get some much needed rest, Born told his Soldiers how proud he was of them. More than 200 Bastogne Soldiers deployed to Chicago to vaccinate civilians against the COVID-19 virus.

“You represented the U.S. Army exceptionally well during a time of national crisis,” he said. “You stepped forward and you delivered competent medical support to the people of Chicago during a time of need, and you should be very proud of that.”

Born added they should take pride in what they accomplished because they played an essential role in aiding Americans in the fight against COVID-19.

“Nationally, the tide is turning against COVID,” he said. “The numbers are down nationally, the number of people who are vaccinated is approaching 50% of all U.S. adults almost, and you are a huge part of that. You had a huge role to play and I’m very proud of you.”

The Soldiers who deployed to Chicago delivered nearly 300,000 vaccinations.

Historical moment

For many Soldiers who returned from the relief effort, this mission was a historical moment filled with emotion.

For 1st Lt. Christopher Shepard, 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st BCT, this was his first mission and he is proud to have been part of the effort as a member of the medical personnel.

“For 1st Brigade I don’t recall too many times in history they’ve been a part of any kind of humanitarian mission,” Shepard said. “Specifically, for us and for being a brigade support battalion, not many times are we the decisive operation in a mission. But this gave 426 probably the very first chance to go out and actually have a direct impact and lead the mission, so being a part of that, it’s history for 426.”

Shepard added this mission also was very different because unlike a regular deployment where the objective is to overcome a foreign adversary, Soldiers on this mission were fighting a virus within their own borders and trying to help American civilians. The change in perspective made him proud and the emotions surrounding it were powerful.

“We’re in a unique perspective of being able to go and to help people versus being at war and eliminating the enemy,” he said. “Looking at it from a medical perspective, it’s almost overwhelming. When you vaccinate right at 300,000 people, I mean Soldiers were actually out there saving lives. Who’s to say who gets COVID-19 and maybe not recover from it.”

Filled with pride

Specialist Zachary Houser, a medic with C Co. 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT, assisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency in helping the citizens of Cleveland, Ohio, get their COVID-19 vaccinations.

“It feels good to be back,” Houser said. “We were there for about three months and it meant quite a lot to me. I was very proud to be a part of this and it’s as close as I’ll probably come to assisting the American people. This is definitely something that I enlisted for. I am currently a line medic who focuses on the tactical side of things so I hope that something like this helps me in my future because I hope to go to a hospital setting after I reenlist.”

Strike Soldiers delivered more than 256,836 COVID-19 vaccinations.

Staff Sergeant Timothy Hansen, C Company, 626th Support Battalion, 3rd BCT, also is proud to have helped Americans through the COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“It’s much more different than my last couple missions, specifically because it’s directly affecting the United States and because it’s within our own borders.” Hansen said. “A lot of joy came from it and I felt like there was more thanks because it was our population and there was more gratitude. We got a good foot in the ground down there, and the people we vaccinated are going to go ahead and spread that word and get their friends and Families in. Even though we left, they’re still going to find places to get them in and get them vaccinated as well.”

Hansen was deployed with Rakkasan Soldiers who went to Orlando, Florida, where they vaccinated more than 200,000 people.