Fort Carson soldiers deployed close to home Monday to administer COVID-19 vaccines after trekking around the country putting shots in arms for the past several months.
Nearly 140 soldiers loaded onto buses and drove down to Pueblo to support Centura Health and the Federal Emergency Management Agency' efforts at the COVID-19 Community Vaccination Center at the Colorado State Fairgrounds.
Pueblo County was trailing behind other Colorado cities of Colorado when it comes to administering vaccine doses, according to statistics released Friday, with 31,851 people fully vaccinated and 52,543 with the first dose of the vaccine. In Colorado Springs, 125,648 people had been fully vaccinated by Saturday and nearly 2 million people in the Denver metro area had at least on shot by Sunday.
The Fort Carson contingent is expected to remain at the site for two months with the goal of giving 3,000 shots a day, said Lt. Col. Gary McDonald, who commands the posts 3rd Squadron of the 61st Cavalry Regiment and is leading the mission in Pueblo.
"Until it's done and until there's no more people showing up at the vaccination site we'll be there," McDonald said. "But it really depends on the locals, if we can get the citizenry to show up and get the shots."
Fort Carson soldiers expressed excitement to help Pueblo end the pandemic, McDonald said.
"This is the community we live in, it's an excellent opportunity to serve this community," Lt. Colonel Gary McDonald said.
The Fort Carson mission is being run under the auspices of U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, which offers Pentagon support to civilian authorities. The latest mission comes as a group of Fort Carson soldiers ordered to deliver vaccinations in Los Angeles heads home.
While some soldiers will stay overnight in Pueblo, the majority of the troops will commute by bus for the mission.
Pueblo resident Sgt. Joshua Montelongo was born an raised in the city and but returned to Pueblo to serve his hometown.
"Not once did I think that I would be able to support not only Colorado, but my local community," Montelongo said.
More than half of the soldiers deployed to Pueblo are medics who spent the past two months prepping for the mission, including training with FEMA, learning about the Pfizer vaccine and how to administer it, Montelongo said.
As part of the training, some soldiers gave shots in Pueblo, Montelongo said.
"They're excited, you should see some of the people who drive through the gates," Montelongo said of Pueblo residents flock to the fairgrounds for vaccine. "They're hooting and hollering at us and thanking us for being out there to help support the community and thanking us for our service at the same time."