BROOKLYN, N.Y., –
Efforts have been underway for almost a month to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to people at the state-led, federally-supported Medgar Evers College Community Vaccination Center in Brooklyn.
For Brooklynites who are most comfortable speaking a foreign language or do not speak English as their primary language, they can turn to some of the deployed U.S. Air Force Airmen of the 335th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron, or EMDOS, to help translate.
When the approximately 140 Airmen were chosen to deploy and support the CVC, the ability to translate was not a deciding factor in their process. Some Airmen from the 335th EMDOS can assist community members who speak Spanish, Creole, Russian and Mandarin. However, Senior Airman Can Liu, a general purpose Airman assigned to the 335th EMDOS, is the only Airman on-site who can speak Mandarin.
“I saw community members who were trying to get the vaccine and they weren’t really sure about what they were getting, and they were struggling with the language barrier as well,” Liu said. “I just started talking to them in Mandarin and was able to help them through this process, bridging the translation barrier.”
Liu, who is deployed from the 20th Civil Engineer Squadron out of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, was born in Fushun, China, and moved to the Flushing, Queens area with her family when she was nine years old.
“When the opportunity came up to deploy to Brooklyn, I was so excited because my mother and in-laws live nearby,” Liu said. “I haven’t seen my family in two years due to a deployment to Kuwait, then when I was going to come visit, COVID-19 happened and travel was restricted.”
When the Airmen are not available for a human touch, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed language options in a number of ways, including a phone-based “language line,” and even on-demand Video Remote Interpreter calls for American Sign Language support, which community members can access through their own smartphones or through devices provided by CVC staff personnel.
Both in-person and language lines are ways to be inclusive.
“Our squadron is a model of diversity and inclusion, and that model produces results far beyond that of a homogenous group,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Adams, 335th MDOS commander. “Through the many talents of Senior Airman Liu and her peers, we are able to offer a higher level of care and service to our Federal Emergency Management Agency-led mission in Brooklyn.”
Adams and other 335th EMDOS leaders saw how dedicated to the mission Liu is, and recognized her for her work ethic and for embodying the core values of integrity, service before self and excellence, by presenting her with a command coin.
“In just our first three weeks at Medgar Evers College, Senior Airman Liu has personally guided numerous Chinese-speaking Brooklynites from our appointment check-in, through their COVID-19 medical screening and vaccination, and for both their first and second vaccination appointments,” Adams said. “On a particular day, we recall her quickly transitioning between at least three job responsibilities - appointment screener, process flow manager and translator - within a matter of minutes, and she did it all with pride and professionalism.”
Liu estimated she’s translated for 200-300 Chinese community members, a number which will continue to grow until the 335th EMDOS is finished with their efforts.
“This experience is super meaningful because when we can give the vaccine to as many people as possible, that means COVID-19 can end faster,” Liu said. “My mother-in-law has a kidney transplant, which makes it a higher risk for her to go anywhere. Being here and getting this community vaccinated means it’s safer not just for those individuals, but for my family too.”
The entire deployed group of 335th EMDOS Airmen will continue giving their best for the whole community.
“We wear the same uniform, but we come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, locations, career fields, etc.,” Adams said. “We are unified through our oath and service to the greater good.”
U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing continued, flexible Department of Defense support to FEMA as part of the whole-of-government response to COVID-19.
For more information regarding the different teams and CVCs, please refer to the FEMA Community Vaccination Centers playbook.
For additional information, contact the ARNORTH and JFLCC public affairs office at 210-428-9835 or firstname.lastname@example.org.