PACIFIC OCEAN - “I-L-I reported in compartment three tack, one eight zero tack, zero tack, quebec. Away the COVID response team away. All hands not involved stand clear.”
Announcing an “ILI,” or influenza-like illness, hasn’t always been a standard announcement on a U.S. Navy warship’s 1MC (ship’s announcement system). But aboard the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), it’s about as common as hearing “mail call” since the ship returned to Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY), November 2020, following a six-month deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility.
“We partnered with U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka to organize an entire waterfront vaccination effort,” said Goldhammer. “Our aim was to get Ronald Reagan Sailors and Sailors on other ships and commands at CFAY vaccinated so we can work towards establishing ‘herd immunity.’”
Vaccinating a community as large as CFAY posed challenges – the first of which was finding a suitable location.
Rivera and Reagan Ranch staff reserved the Hawk’s Nest, one of CFAY’s indoor fitness facilities that consists of a large, open court and mat area. They set up the facility to allow for social distancing through every step of the vaccination process.
Additionally, Ronald Reagan's leadership faced the challenge of educating the crew about the vaccine.
“Given how new the vaccine was, it required a pretty massive educational undertaking to make sure the crew understood how the vaccine works, how it’s regulated, why it’s good to take the vaccine, and how it’s going to help us defeat COVID-19,” said Goldhammer.
Ronald Reagan’s medical and media departments teamed up to educate the crew before and during the vaccination process.
Lt. Cmdr. Dawn Stankus, the ship’s public affairs officer, and the Ronald Reagan media department, faced an interesting endeavor when asked to take somewhat intricate medical information about a new vaccine and break it down for the crew and the waterfront in a relatively simplistic way. From a broad perspective, the vaccine was still relatively new, and, obviously, Sailors had some apprehensions about the vaccine’s side effects and how receiving the vaccine would inevitably help with the ship’s, and the fleet’s, overall fight against COVID.
“The mass communication specialists on Ronald Reagan are extraordinarily creative and impressive communicators,” said Stankus. “When faced with a complex communication initiative, like the one associated with the COVID vaccine, they tackled it full on and developed a variety of useful products to assist their shipmates in their overall decision to receive the vaccine. Both doses.”
Stankus explained that the media department created a COVID-19 vaccine information booklet, posters, infographics, flyers, videos, print stories, social media posts, and even a sticker design to excite and inform the crew throughout the vaccination process.
“What made this communication campaign slightly more multifaceted than others, is the fact that the vaccine is sanctioned under an ‘Emergency Use Authorization’ and is still voluntary for military members,” said Stankus. “Informing the crew truthfully and accurately, so that they could make their own decision, was extremely important to me and my team. On Ronald Reagan we all desire for an end to this pandemic to protect the crew, our families, our partners, and our mission. Maximum vaccination participation, I truly believe, is the first step for this hope to become a reality.”
The education effort opened up a dialogue and allowed Sailors the opportunity to ask medical professionals on and off ship, as well as their chains of command, questions about the vaccine. When Sailors received the shot, they were armed with all the details necessary to understand the side effects and potential recovery time. Members of the crew understand that masks and physical distancing will still be necessary until the vaccine is proven to provide long-term protection.
“Ronald Reagan and U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka Sailors have administered thousands of shots to the waterfront,” said Goldhammer. “This vaccine puts us on the offense to get a jump-start on beating COVID-19, and our vaccination efforts have been incredibly successful.”
The 76 reasons
Every Sailor who has received the vaccine on Ronald Reagan has done so for a reason. Whether it’s for the hope to “return to normal,” in memory of a family member who has died from the terrible illness, or to support the mission of the U.S. Navy and the Ronald Reagan, there are many reasons why Sailors have made the choice.
For Electronics Technician (Nuclear) 2nd Class Christian Yovan, getting vaccinated was important for long-term protection.
“I got the vaccine for protection, and so I wouldn’t spread the virus to any of my friends and coworkers on watch,” said Yovan.
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuels) Airman Matthew Rolen received the second vaccination early February and emphasized the vaccine is important for family.
“I’m glad for the second shot because I’m hoping to see the results of our steps, maybe see if it will change the way we move forward,” said Rolen. “On a personal note, I’ve had people back home pass away because of COVID-19. Some family has gotten it, and they’ve gone through some issues because of it. I might be young and healthy, but I might spread it to my grandparents or my uncle, and that’s on me. I recommend everyone get it.”
Chief Machinery Repairman Fransisco Barrera explained that being vaccinated provides a peace of mind that he is doing his part in the fight against COVID-19.
“I tell people ‘you don’t really get it, until it happens to you,’” said Barrera. “You’re not going to feel it until it happens to you, and you’re going to feel it. That’s when I felt it, when I had my uncle die of COVID-19 a few months back. We might not see the [impact of the] vaccination right away, but we have to trust the scientists, and everyone who has devoted their lives to make this vaccine happen. Every day we live and serve, we’re making history, and right now everyone here [getting the shot] is making history.”
A hopeful outlook
It’s been close to one year since Ronald Reagan’s first ILI response aired over the ship’s 1MC. Reflecting on the past year, the ship’s crew faced challenges and adapted to changes like ILIs, social distancing, wearing masks and other precautions, and maintained resilience throughout this fight against COVID-19. The progress wouldn’t be possible without the teamwork of the Ronald Reagan crew, the COVID Support Team, the CRC, and U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka.
“We’ve employed an impressive amount of original work through this whole process,” said Goldhammer. “From the leadership efforts of every department on board, the education aspect and the formation of support teams to get our entire crew coordinated and through the vaccination process – all while still maintaining our COVID response processes – we’ve been able to expand our efforts past the ship and to the waterfront.”
Though the future of COVID-19 is uncertain, the commitment of Ronald Reagan Sailors to beat the disease is unwavering. By receiving the vaccine and maintaining the ship’s mission-readiness and crew health, the future is optimistic as the ship prepares to deploy again in the coming months. Ronald Reagan continues to lead the fight against COVID-19 in Japan and throughout the fleet.
Subject specific information for the media
Events or announcements of note for the media
Official Navy statements
Given by Navy leadership
HASC, SASC and Congressional testimony