LOS ANGELES — On any given day, you will find U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Kirsten Pavao gearing up to administer the COVID-19 vaccine at the California State University, Los Angeles campus.
She is one of over 200 active duty soldiers deployed from Fort Carson, Colorado to help at the massive vaccination site. But for Pavao, this deployment is also a homecoming.
“This is the community that helped raise me to become the person that I am, and to be able to give back to that community has been a humbling experience,” Pavao said.
She grew up in La Habra and has been at the Cal State L.A. site since mid-February. Even though she only has a few minutes with each person getting the shot, it’s enough for her to see how hard the pandemic has hit the community.
“We’ve had a couple people come through, and they’ve said that they had lost their parent two weeks before they were able to get this vaccine,” she said.
Other times, there are tears of joy from people after they receive the vaccine.
"So many people have apologized to me. They are like, 'I’m so sorry, I’m talking so much.' And I said, 'No, take your time,'" Pavao said. "You never receive the gravity of the situation. You never realize just how badly people just crave human interaction."
Pavao is in her tenth year with the U.S. Army and spent time on deployments in South Korea, Oklahoma, and Alaska. She knew she always wanted to help people and do something in the medical field but wasn’t sure what so she enlisted. The skills she has learned as a medic along with her compassion are a perfect combination for this mission — one she never expected.
“You join the military and you expect to deploy to foreign nations to help assist in whatever those operations are, but you never quite think that you are going to deploy within the United States to help out the American people,” Pavao said.
The site administers up to 7,500 doses a day, and for Pavao it means personally giving dozens of shots every day. Bringing that shot of hope to people also means she gets to see her family who still live in the area.
“I’ve gotten to see my grandpa. I’ve gotten to see my uncle. I plan on visiting plenty of other family members and friends as I continue to help out this community,” she said.
This work further cements what she wants do in the medical field, which is to become a nurse — allowing her to continue with her life’s mission of helping others.