College of National Service dean thanks Vermont National Guard members for running vaccine clinic

After more than a year of COVID-19 distancing, masks and shattered routines, the promise of vaccines felt like a blessing, U.S. Air Force Col. Matthew Smith said. When Vermont National Guard personnel came to deliver shots March 23, Smith wanted to thank them.

So he summoned his ROTC detachment’s mascot, the Yeti.

Vermont National Guard officials said 200 people, 88% of them students, were vaccinated at the clinic, funded by the Defense Department as part of Operation Warp Speed. And, as the New England Cable News’ Jack Thurston wrote in a Twitter thread, the Vermont Guard personnel administering the shots received memorabilia — patches, masks and special coins — featuring the Yeti, a towering mythological ape-man.

The Yeti on the patch and stickers, which Smith designed, wears a surgical mask perfect for COVID-19 protection. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Clifford, who teaches aerospace science at Norwich designed the coin. Smith paid for the items himself.

“As cadets and cadre and faculty and staff we’ve wintered over in Northfield, Vermont. So, the patch is representative of the idea (that), ‘You know what? I did it, I can do it.’”U.S. Air Force Col. Matthew Smith, dean, College of National Service

Smith, dean of Norwich University’s College of National Service, said the Yeti is Air Force ROTC Detachment 867’s mascot because it could theoretically endure Vermont’s long, cold winters, which can start in late October and linger well into the spring.

In East Asian mythology, the Yeti, also called Meh-Teh, or the Abominable Snowman, has shaggy gray or white fur and huge teeth and feet. It’s said to wander along through the Himalayan mountains in Nepal and Tibet.

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U.S Air Force Col. Matthew Smith paid for and helped design the Yeti-adorned coins, stickers and patches he gave in thanks to Vermont National Guard personnel at the March 23 Operation Warp Speed vaccination clinic on campus. (Photo courtesy Jack Thurston/New England Cable News.)

“I’d like to think Yetis are fairly resilient when it comes to the weather and the environment,” Smith said. “As cadets and cadre and faculty and staff we’ve wintered over in Northfield, Vermont. So, the patch is representative of the idea (that), ‘You know what? I did it, I can do it.’”

Although in some cultures, the Yeti is feared, Smith said it may have been misunderstood.

“As I say in my leadership philosophy, sometimes you need to listen to understand. Maybe nobody took an opportunity to listen to the Yeti,” he said. “Sometimes you are on your own, like the Yeti, you do need to be resilient and be your own person.”

Vermonters 50+ became eligible to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, joining residents age 65 and older and residents 16 and older with specified high-risk health conditions. Education, public safety and health care workers are also vaccine-eligible.

Widening force

U.S. Army Maj. Scott Detweiler said last week that 85 Vermont Guard members helped administer 10,000 vaccines in March. He added that the Vermont Guard’s vaccine-distribution force will swell to slightly more than 100 in early April.

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A show of the Yeti-themed thank you gifts U.S. Air Force Col. Matthew Smith gave to Vermont National Guard members at the Operation Warp Speed vaccination clinic. (Photo courtesy Jack Thurston/New England Cable News.)

On Twitter, NECN’s Thurston gratefully thanked the Vermont Guard.

“Col. Smith showed his gratitude as a Yeti does — and I know we are all expressing our appreciation to these tireless helpers in our own ways,” Thurston wrote. “So, THANK YOU to everyone who is helping Vermonters through the vaccination process!”

The Vermont National Guard’s personnel may have given the vaccines as an everyday duty, but Smith said their actions were profound. They were saving lives — COVID-19 has killed tens of thousands nationwide — and offering a step toward normalcy.

Because of these shots, Smith said, cadets will be able to attend officer training without worrying about getting sick. Because of the shots, Vermonters can imagine summer seeming normal.

Smith said the Vermont Guard personnel were coordinated and professional, impressive and inspiring. He spoke from his heart, and thanked them.

“I told them, ‘You guys provide hope,’” Smith said, “And that’s the best gift you can give anybody, especially in these challenging times.”

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