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When two worlds collide

  • Published
  • By Edzel Butac
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs (AFRC)
On Feb. 6, 2021, Senior Airman Louis Shackelford’s civilian and military worlds collided.

“I recently received my first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during the February Unit Training Assembly. It was a surreal experience. I was sitting in my Air Force medical unit, in uniform, being injected with a life-saving vaccine brought to fruition by experts and scientists at my civilian job,” Shackelford said.

“It was a beautiful collision of the worlds in which I exist. I cannot remember ever feeling prouder to be both an airman and public health research professional.”

Every month, as Shackelford, an aerospace medical technician assigned to the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron here, puts it, there is a Friday in which he is surrounded by brilliant scientists, researchers, and public health professionals with too many letters behind their names to keep track of at his civilian job as external relations project manager at the COVID-19 Prevention Network, based out of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

The next day, Shackelford is surrounded again by another set of brilliant people, all with letters in front of their names, for his UTA with the Air Force Reserve. Like more than 56,800 Air Force Reservists worldwide, Shackelford dons his Air Force uniform and reports to duty to serve the Nation in a part-time capacity.

“Our Reserve Citizen Airmen bring their civilian experiences and corporate expertise to the Air Force Reserve, making them a great resource” said Col. Paul Skipworth, 446th Airlift Wing’s commander. “They bring unique, innovative skills and experiences that the active duty might not normally have; and this diverse skill set is what we can tap into when needed.”

Born and raised in New York City, Shackelford lived with his mother and his two siblings. He attended Columbia University, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. In 2017, he relocated to Seattle to work at Fred Hutchinson. Shackelford, seeking a greater sense of community and service, enlisted in the Air Force Reserve a year later.

Shackelford’s role as external relations project manager is to ensure communities throughout the United States have the knowledge and understanding to be meaningfully involved in COVID-19 clinical trials. Shackelford explains his role is integral in building community partnerships, hosting events, and crafting educational materials to increase COVID-19 clinical research and vaccine knowledge and understanding. His work especially prioritizes populations disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as Black, Native American, and Hispanic communities.

“My civilian role has afforded me the opportunity to supply the military with educational materials necessary to increase understanding and trust in COVID-19 vaccines. My position at the CoVPN also makes me a resource to all military members who have questions, concerns, and fears about the COVID-19 vaccines,” Shackelford said.

Col. (Dr.) Bruce Neely, the AMDS commander and a civilian emergency room physician in Tacoma, Washington, saw the materials Shackelford produced and was impressed.

“The COVID-19 vaccine information slides provided by Senior Airman Shackelford were quite easy to understand, are a nice way to explain the vaccines in general, and are a great place to start educating and maybe alleviating some fears,” Neely said in an email.

Besides the shot in the arm, Shackelford also alleviated fears closer to home.

“My cousin, who is currently active duty Navy, was hesitant to be vaccinated for COVID-19. So, she reached out to me with questions about the vaccines. Off the strength of my answers, she decided to get vaccinated the next day,” Shackelford said.

“She trusted me because we are family. I see her and all military members as family, and I want to offer them someone they can trust.”

In what Shackelford calls a beautiful collision on Feb. 6, he recognizes a similar sense of pride and honor he brings to both worlds. Shackelford, like many Reserve Citizen Airmen, brings civilian skills to the military and vice versa. Part-time Reservists bring corporate knowledge to reform and innovate old processes in new ways.

“In the research setting, I am an advocate, an educator, a student, a sounding board, and a subject matter expert,” Shackelford said. “When I put on my Air Force uniform, all these things remain part of me. I strive to bring my whole self into the work at my unit, to honor those I serve with and those that served before me.”