1400 Friday, January 16, 2021. I get several messages within 10 minutes telling me that our local VA hospital in Milwaukee, WI will be issuing 500 vaccines a day to veterans over age 65 for three days, starting tomorrow morning at 0715. One of those messages is from Team Rubicon operations associate, John Stuhlmacher. In Wisconsin, the COVID-19 distribution isn’t going great and I was anticipating a late February vaccination—hopefully.
I’m excited as when I was 10 years old and my grandfather was taking me fishing the next morning. I set the alarm for 0530. I don’t need the alarm. Instead, I’m up at 0515 and headed for my magic bean juice, aka coffee. I arrive at the VA at 0655 and already there is an extremely long line, more than two blocks long. I do a quick spatial count and come up with a rough estimate of 300 people. Perhaps I’m not too late. I step into line. It’s 25 degrees in Milwaukee and I spend the next 30 minutes with all the other vets joking how it isn’t really that cold, at least it isn’t snowing and windy. Then, someone from the VA comes by passing out numbers. I get 338 and am told to come back at 1030.
I’m back at 1015, just in case they are running ahead of schedule. No worries there—they are actually only running 15 minutes behind. But it turns out to be a very smooth operation, and I’m impressed that my local VA was able to put this together in less than 24 hours. By 1045 I have my sleeve rolled up and I get my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
As someone who normally deploys with Team Rubicon six to nine times a year, the last nine months have been difficult for me. I know it has been hard on a lot of other Greyshirts who are older than 65, too. Mentally we accepted, and agreed with, the decision of Team Rubicon leadership to restrict deployments of those considered “high-risk” during the pandemic, but emotionally, it still hurt. Being in the field is a big part of our lives, and having the opportunity to get back out there is very important to us. Selfishly I would’ve stood in that damn line in 25-degree temperatures for four hours or more to get my shot. As Greyshirt Christopher Stephens of Indiana says “Team Rubicon provides my soul food.”
For me, this shot is more than just a possible lifesaver. It means that personally I will have freedom to travel—the ability to go see my 84-year-old mother, to visit friends, to actually go to a restaurant. It also gives me the ability to use the skills that Team Rubicon has taught me—I’m a sawyer and a heavy equipment operator. It’s the ability to go and help others on their worst days.
And, to help vaccinate other Americans. As soon as I get that second dose of the vaccine, you can be certain I’ll be deploying with Team Rubicon, whether that’s to vaccinate people in Chicago or maybe here in Wisconsin, or in response to whatever winter bomb cyclone or spring tornado or flood leaves survivors in need of our help.
If you are over 65, I encourage you to get your vaccine ASAP. You are needed out there. Do it for yourself, do it for your family, do it for your friends, do it for your community!