KALISPELL, Mont. — It’s just before dawn in northwestern Montana. Winter mountains are the backdrop for a plane preparing to land.
Its cargo is incredibly important, a cooler full of hope.
“Little by little, we get our freedom back,” said Todd Webber who works for the Veterans Affairs medical system in Montana.
The special delivery to Kalispell contains more than 400 second doses of the Moderna vaccine. It’s headed straight to the arms of some very important Americans: veterans. For some of them, it’s quite the relief.
“It’s a great, to me, sense of relief. We’re doing something, we’re accomplishing something, because it’s been quite a siege,” said Joe White, a US Air Force veteran.
“It means that I’m going to be totally resistant to this terrible pandemic we’re going through,” another veteran said.
“I’m thrilled to death. The VA is really taking care of us. I’m thrilled,” said Dick Winn, another veteran getting his second dose.
Over the course of a few hours, the nurses and doctors here get hundreds of vets fully vaccinated. Little by little, that makes a big impact in a state like Montana.
“It’s awesome, it’s great. I’ve been to almost every place we’ve gone and we’ve given over 6,000 vaccines,” said Webber.
This program of flying and dropping off vaccines to rural communities is being tested in Montana and has already begun in other states across the country. The program will help thousands of veterans in hard-to-reach areas of the US get vaccinated.
These men and women have been through so much. Many have seen combat and taken bullets serving others.
“I got shot in the chest, right here, that’s what you get them for,” said Winn.
Some have received medals.
“Well, one of them was artillery right round, it knocked all of these teeth out here,” said Arnold Edwards, a Korean War veteran with three Purple Hearts.
“This is the Silver Star, that’s the Bronze Star. Combat Infantry badge, Purple Heart,” Winn displayed on his hat
Some of them served on classified missions.
“We were a real band of brothers, we weren’t in a shooting war, but we went into harm's way,” White said remembering his brothers in arms.
Yet, they’re still fighting this pandemic with the rest of us. It’s been hard on them, especially men like White.
“The last year of my life has been, contained, limiting,” said White.
White says he and his wife haven’t hugged their grandkids or great-grandkids in a long time.
“Haven’t hugged any of them in, for this whole year since the shut down, first lockdown. I’m waiting for the chance to hug people again, I’m a big hugger,” he said.
Grandpas everywhere know the kind of pain that causes.
With each vial filled and each dose administered, that’s one more veteran who can hug their grandkids again.