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U.S. Army Corps of Engineer retirees go beyond call of duty

COVID-19 Vaccine Mission

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District
Published May 20, 2021

Workers at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. Front Row (Left-Right) Victoria Kim, Donna Beck, Thomas French, Josie Arcurio, Rosalyn Marie Lampkin, Daisy Martin, and Rachel Jimenez. Back Row (Left-Right) Patrick Tuohy, Frank Peterson, John Emmerson, and Jack Grialico.

Retiree, Rosalyn Marie Lampkin used to work for the Los Angeles District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Today she spends her time taking care of the elderly. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, she has found this work especially challenging, but it hasn’t stopped her from continuing to help people.

She said, “I wanted them to live as normal a life as possible. Some were afraid to go grocery shopping, to go to the doctor, and a few of them worried about getting their medications delivered on time.  One of my clients was very stressed about his life, and COVID-19 increased his stress level to the point he wanted to commit suicide.  Fortunately, I got help for him, and to this day, he is doing well. When I told him, I would be helping residents in Brooklyn, New York get vaccinations, he was very supportive and told me never to stop helping people.”

Lampkin is one of many Army Corps retirees that volunteered – under the Army Corps’ Reemployed Annuitant Cadre Program - to work at Federal Emergency Management Agency Community COVID-19 Vaccination Centers across the nation to assist with vaccine distribution.

They’re helping the community every step of the way to get vaccinated - from greeting them at the door to making sure they get home safely. They’re also going beyond the call of duty. Following are the experiences of three of them who volunteered at a vaccination center set up at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.

Josie Arcurio, Supervisory Emergency Management Specialist, Office of Response and Recovery, Field Operations Division, FEMA said, “This location in Brooklyn was at the heart of the type of community we wanted to reach.  We wanted to reach those especially at high risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection.  This community is one of the most diverse and socioeconomically challenged communities in the country.” 

The volunteers worked side by side with personnel with many agencies including FEMA, the U.S. Air Force medical staff, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, AmeriCorps NCCC, Federal Aviation Administration, New York State Health Department, and New York Project Hope.

The COVID-19 Pandemic hit the United States over a year ago. New York State, especially New York City, felt the full brunt of it and was the epicenter of the pandemic.  At the time of this article’s publishing there were over 52,256 COVID-19 deaths in New York State and 600,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States as a whole.

The Army Corps in collaboration with FEMA has played a visible role in the COVID-19 Pandemic. When the pandemic hit, overwhelming hospitals, the agency’s teamed up to construct alternate care facilities. 

A year later, the agencies have come full circle and are teaming together to set up community vaccination centers throughout the Nation.   

Lampkin served as an administrative officer at the vaccine center. She worked in the vaccine registration area and at times on the receiving line to greet people and escort them to appropriate areas. 

Her role was more than just administrative. She said, “A woman came to the location to register her sister to receive the vaccine.  She was unwilling to get vaccinated, yet she wanted her sister to be safe from getting COVID-19.  Our team members were doing their best to convince her that she, too, should get vaccinated.  The woman was adamant about not wanting the vaccine and gave every excuse she could think of why she refused to be vaccinated.”

She continued, “I decided to speak to her about the pros and cons of why she should get vaccinated.  By the time we finished the registration process for her sister, she had agreed, and we were able to get her registered to be vaccinated on the same day at the same time as her sister.”

Thomas French, another Army Corps retiree who used to work for the Vicksburg District, greeted thousands of people coming into the center for their first or second shots. He checked in every person, reviewed their paperwork and identifications, and directed them to the correct areas - whether it was registration or the vaccine area - and he watched them leave the center.

He said, “What made this work satisfying for me was the pure signs of relief on people’s faces after they got their second vaccine. Understand, when many of these people first get to facility, they are scared, apprehensive of the whole government thing, and wonder if this is worth it. They’ve already spent a lot of time trying to get appointments, then after their first vaccine they must wait a few weeks for the second vaccine. When they finally get their second vaccine, they are relieved, and the anxiety has been lifted.”

Like Lampkin, his role went beyond what was required and he used technology to do this. He said, “There were many different nationalities that came through the center and because of this there were language issues.  I downloaded a translator app on my phone so I could communicate with them.”

He continued, “Picture a group of people who speak no English and they have totally blank expressions on their faces. Then me taking my phone out of my pocket and opening up the app and typing in the questions I need to ask them and then showing them the phone and then them realizing that they have what they need to move forward in the process. Their smiles and the relief on their faces were priceless.”

French also helped people download the New York State Excelsior Pass app that shows their proof of vaccination.

The volunteer’s work did not end after people got their vaccine shots. Victoria Kim, another Army Corps retiree who used to work for the Army Corps’ Southwestern Division had the responsibility of making sure the vaccine recipients waited 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine before leaving in case they experience any severe reaction to the vaccine.

She said, “The most interesting aspect of what I did was interact and meet people from many different agencies, backgrounds, and continents. New York City is truly an international city.”

She said there was constant movement and energy all day long. She met Uber drivers from many different countries in the morning and many elderly people in the neighborhood who needed extra care.

She said, “Many elderly people from the neighborhood come to receive the vaccine.  Many of them come with someone to assist them, but sometimes they come by themselves.  In these cases, we all help them onto a wheelchair or help them return to their home safely.”  

She recalls a few times when extra help was needed. “There was one elderly woman who came by herself who was sitting in the waiting area for 30 minutes. I was walking along the chair isles and noticed her looking very worried.  I asked her how she was, she said that she left her cell phone at home and needed to call her cab to pick her up.  I told her I can call the cab for her.  I made sure the correct cab arrived and she went home safely.”

She continued, “Another time there was an elderly man who was heading to the door directly after receiving the vaccine.  He seemed unstable as he walked.  I asked him if he was OK and I made sure he sat for 15 minutes.  Calls were coming in on his phone and he was unable to answer the phone because the screen was dark.  I helped him answer the phone call from his daughter, held his arm as he walked outside, found the cab that was way up the road and ensured he got onto the cab safely. By helping these elderly people, I realized that I am making a huge impact to this neighborhood.” 

The volunteers are proud of what they did, and the community showed its appreciation.

Kim said, “Many people were thankful and appreciative of the work we did and thanked us verbally as they were leaving, and some left us personal notes of thanks. It was a very rewarding experience every day.”

She added, “We worked long hours, 7 days a week. Although the work was physically challenging, there was so much satisfaction and reward knowing that I was part of history.  I contributed to vaccinating 200,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Brooklyn, NY.  I encourage everyone to take short-term mission assignments with FEMA. You will be helping someone in need; you will be making a big impact on someone’s life.”

French said, “In the end we have satisfied and relieved people who just got vaccinated and they know they are one step closer to a normal life again.”

He added, “I wanted to be part of the recovery process for the pandemic and help people. I just like giving back - in a way I feel I owe the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for giving me such a great career.”

For Arcurio this mission was a personal one. She said, “My family has been deeply affected by COVID-19 with 8 members having caught the virus, including my 95-year-old mom.  My older brother is still paralyzed since his November 2020 hospital admission. My younger brother died on March 21, 2021 after he lost his fight battling the virus.  It is important for everyone to get vaccinated to fight this virus and end suffering to many families.”

Lampkin added, “This was my way of helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 and a way to encourage people that it is safe to get vaccinated. I wanted to be that Beacon of Light and Hope in a person's life.”