PHILADELPHIA, Pa. --
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania holds a special place in U.S. Marine Corps history.
In 1775, Capt. Samuel Nicholas, the first commissioned officer in the Continental Marines who would later go on to become the first Commandant of the Marine Corps, was directed by Congress to raise two battalions of Marines.
Tun Tavern, an infamous saloon that no longer physically stands but remains tattooed across the heart and soul of every U.S. Marine, became the first Marine Corps recruiting station looking for a “few good men.”
Nicholas then stood up the first battalion of U.S. Marines, which set sail only a month later aboard the USS Alfred before being subsequently baptized by fire, officially establishing a tradition of excellence for the service which would become the Nation’s premiere naval expeditionary force in readiness.
Now, the Marines have landed back in Philadelphia fighting the next adversary: COVID-19.
In February, the Marines and Sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 22 returned to their roots in the City of Brotherly Love, serving at the state-run, federally-supported Center City Community Vaccination Center in the Pennsylvania Convention Center alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and city partners.
The vaccination center, which has been administering COVID-19 vaccines to the local community around-the-clock over the past two months, is but a small piece of the national whole-of-government effort to fight the pandemic. To date, nearly 50 community vaccination centers like the one in Philadelphia have delivered over 2.6 million vaccinations to people across the United States.
“I hope that people see what the Navy and Marine Corps can do when we’re called upon.” Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Connell, a Navy medical officer
For several Pennsylvanians on the Blue Green Team, their return to the Keystone State has been a uniquely personal mission.
“I’ve always loved Pennsylvania. It’s a pride thing. This is where I was born and raised,” said Hospitalman Josiah Johnson, a vaccinator with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment from Erie, Pennsylvania.
Johnson serves as one of many hospital corpsman vaccinators that have collectively administered over 275,000 vaccines at the federal vaccination center.
He works alongside a wide array of Navy medical officers, like Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Connell.
A critical care nurse with 2nd Medical Battalion and a Troy, Pennsylvania native, Connell graduated from Philadelphia’s own Drexel University over a decade ago and commissioned via the school’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program. He is now serving as an observation supervisor at the convention center.
“To come back now and … provide what the city needed, that’s fulfilling,” Connell said. “I hope that people see what the Navy and Marine Corps can do when we’re called upon.”
Connell works alongside Marine counterparts at the vaccination center, who serve in non-clinical support roles to assist with patient registration, processing, and answering questions about the vaccination process.
Shot of Protection
Photo by 1st Lt. Kevin Stapleton
Staff Sgt. Jacob Maurer, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, serves as a shift leader supervising 30 Marines at the convention center.
The seasoned staff non-commissioned officer from Warwick, Pennsylvania saw his own feelings about getting the vaccine change dramatically after receiving a close-contact notification while visiting his family on a routine leave period in Pennsylvania.
Maurer was forced to adjust his leave plans and quarantine in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He soon learned that several of his family's neighbors became gravely ill and were diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after he started his isolation period, which heavily influenced his decision to ultimately get vaccinated in preparation for the Philadelphia mission.
“I was actually really hesitant to begin with. I was not for (receiving) the vaccine,” Maurer said. “I got educated. This is not some social media post; the pandemic is a real thing.”
Marines rarely get the opportunity to serve in a humanitarian capacity in the United States, and Maurer relished in the fact that the unique capabilities of the Navy-Marine Corps team were leveraged to help his fellow Pennsylvanians.
Entering month three of providing vaccinations for his neighbors, Maurer and his colleagues can reflect on the unit’s service in Philadelphia with an immense sense of pride.
“We’re here to help, that’s the entire goal,” he said. “I’m glad I can serve the people, especially in my home state. It’s been a once in a lifetime opportunity.”