The Hawaii National Guard deployed a cargo plane specially outfitted as a “mobile vaccination clinic” to neighbor islands this week in the first round of a campaign to inoculate guardsmen off Oahu.

The C-17 Globemaster III from the National Guard’s 154th Wing operating out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam carried soldiers and airmen to vaccinate fellow guardsmen helping in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release from the Air National Guard.

The Honolulu-based troops included medical, logistical, and operational guardsmen who “were transported to the counties of Hawaii, Maui and Kauai,” on Tuesday, the Air National Guard said in a press release.

Guardsmen on the islands of Lanai and Molokai were included in the tour, Hawaii National Guard spokeswoman Krystal Kawabata told Civil Beat. The plane kept the engine running as it hopped from island to island. It delivered and administered all the vaccines in one day.

A joint team of Medical, Logistical, and Operational Guardsmen based out of Oahu Island administers COVID-19 vaccines to Airmen and Soldiers on Jan. 5, 2021, at Kahului, Hawaii. A C-17 Globemaster III, operated by 154th Wing Airmen, was modified into a mobile vaccination clinic to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to Airmen and Soldiers on neighboring islands. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)
Hawaii National Guardsmen on the Big Island receive vaccinations on Jan. 5 aboard a C-17 that’s been converted into a “mobile vaccination clinic.” John Linzmeier/ANG/2021

Many of the guardsmen receiving the vaccine have been on duty for more than 90 days. They’re members of an 800 person task force deployed across the islands. Kawabata could not confirm how many vaccines were administered, but said that taking the vaccine is currently voluntary for troops.

The National Guard has played a central role in the pandemic response since Gov. David Ige appointed Hawaii National Guard commander Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara as the incident commander for the outbreak and activated troops statewide last April.

The vaccinations given on Tuesday were the first round of vaccines for guardsmen on neighbor islands. Guardsmen on Oahu began receiving the vaccine on Dec. 28.

The plane will repeat its journey in a few weeks to administer the second dose to guardsmen across the islands, Kawabata said. But she said it’s expected to be a temporary arrangement with the plane expected to return to its regular duties after delivering the second doses.

Hara has said the National Guard may play a role in helping with logistics and transporting the vaccines for the general public as they become widely available.

Guardsmen have been front-line responders taking on a wide range of roles assisting various state agencies, including checking temperatures and other COVID-19 screening of new arrivals at airports, and working as data analysts and contact tracers at the state Department of Health.

Hawaii Guardsmen also played a key role in a mass drive-thru COVID-19 testing effort on the H-3 federal highway in September and have conducted testing and educational outreach at schools, businesses and low-income neighborhoods.

In November, a 53-year-old guardsman became the first member of the Hawaii National Guard to die of COVID-19.

State officials won’t reveal how many service members have contracted the disease due to a Pentagon directive that bans commanders in Hawaii from reporting their case numbers to the public, but is not enforced consistently across the Pacific.

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