On a cloudless, sun-parched afternoon in late March, Petty Officers 2nd Class Cody Childress and Casey Zachry — both health services technicians assigned to Base New Orleans — touched down in a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Sector Corpus Christi, Texas. Awaiting their arrival was a large group of Coast Guard members, eager to receive their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
After vaccinating close to 100 members at Sector Corpus Christi, Zachry and Childress, along with the flight crew, moved on to Port O’Connor, Texas to continue with vaccinations.
“Everyone we’ve encountered on this mission has been so appreciative,” said Zachry. “Like all of us, they’re eager to get operations — and life in general — back to normal.”
Their mission that week would take them to multiple hard-to-reach locations throughout the Eighth Coast Guard District, which spans 26 states, including the Gulf of Mexico shoreline from Florida to Mexico. The flight crew from the Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama that transported Zachry and Childress was led by Cmdr. Andy Greenwood.
“Delivering vaccines as quickly as possible during a pandemic: I can’t think of anything more important than that right now,” Greenwood said.
Lt. Ernest Callahan, the regional practice manager for the Eighth Coast Guard District, and Childress and Zachry’s supervisor, described some of the hurdles in getting the workforce vaccinated throughout the district.
“We have such a wide geographic area, making it difficult to get all of our people to a Coast Guard clinic,” Callahan said.
These difficulties spawned the idea of airlifting the vaccines to get more members vaccinated than would otherwise be possible in the same length of time. For this, Callahan tapped Childress and Zachry.
“These guys are exceptional corpsmen who hit the ground running. I couldn’t be more proud of their determination,” Callahan said.
Callahan was also quick to note that, although already short-staffed, the Base New Orleans clinic stepped up in a big way to fill the void created with two corpsmen deploying to administer vaccinations to the field. He said the entire clinic staff continued to render top-notch service to everyone at the base.
Zachry and Childress have both been in the Coast Guard for over a decade. During that time, they’ve been stationed together at multiple locations. Their friendship over the years has developed into more of a brotherhood. “People often refer to us as brothers,” Childress said, making the mission all the more rewarding.
As healthcare professionals, they understand the need for their fellow Coast Guard members to be vaccinated against COVID-19. For those who are hesitant to get the vaccine, Zachry advises them to seek out a credible source such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and “research for yourself. The science is strong — make an informed decision based on the science, not what your friend may be telling you. The more people we can vaccinate, the faster we get back to normal.”
Zachry and Childress are scheduled for more vaccination missions planned in the coming weeks, something both are thrilled about.
“The trust (leadership) put into us inspires us to do as much as we can in this important effort,” Childress said. “From the amazing flight crew that transported us, to all of the members we’ve been fortunate to cross paths with recently; this is definitely the highlight of my career.”