AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — With a downrange deployment a few months away, members of the 603rd Air Control Squadron could be one of the first units based in Europe affected by the military’s readopted policy of mandatory anthrax shots.

Not that the Scorpions seem particularly stung by the news.

“Obviously, they deem it a high enough threat so that it’s required, so I really don’t mind,” said Senior Airman Jonathan Mills, who has never received the vaccination.

Mills said because he’s only recently learned he’ll deploy, he hasn’t had enough time to study the issue and the advantages and disadvantages of the shots.

“If it was something that was optional, I would not take it,” he said. “I don’t see the threat of anthrax exposure now as significant enough for me to take the shots and expose myself to the potential dangers.”

But he’s willing to follow orders and the Air Force’s advice and get the shots.

Staff Sgt. Juan Pastrana, who also has never had the shots, echoed those thoughts.

“If the Air Force is telling us it’s mandatory, there has to be a good reason for it,” he said.

The Pentagon announced about two weeks ago that the policy on getting shots would change from voluntary to mandatory for U.S. troops and emergency-essential Department of Defense civilians and contractors serving in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility and on the Korean peninsula for 15 days or more.

Implementation of the policy was to begin in 30 to 60 days. That may be just in time for the 603rd to receive the official word — and maybe the shots — before it deploys just after the start of the new year.

Though it’s against Air Force policy to discuss the specific location of the deployment before the troops are in place, the Scorpions are known to be headed to a country in CENTCOM’s area of responsibility.

Tech. Sgt. Seuk Chathaboury said official news about the new policy hasn’t reached the unit yet.

Chathaboury, an independent duty medical technician, said he and Tech. Sgt. Melissa Merritt will be the ones giving unit members their shots. In fact, airmen are set to roll up their sleeves in a few weeks to get influenza vaccines.

Unless official word comes down, he said, they’ll continue to give airmen deploying to southwest Asia the option of taking the anthrax shots.

Capt. Marcus Calderon already has received the shots. All six of them.

“It was before the decision to make it voluntary,” he said. “I’ve already had all of them and never really had a choice.”

He said he had no side effects other than some discomfort with the needle. “Like any other shot, it stung a bit,” he said.

Calderon said he expects he’ll need to get a booster shot for the deployment and is not concerned about it.

When told of the amount of shots involved — six over 18 months — Pastrana said he could handle it. But he laughingly said some of his peers might not.

“For some who don’t like needles, “ he said, “they’re in for a rude awakening.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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