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NEWS | May 17, 2021

MING Soldier helps at vaccination events with sign language

By Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera, Michigan National Guard

MARINE CITY, Mich. – During a recent COVID-19 vaccination clinic, Michigan Army National Guard Sgt. Bill Fitrakis, assigned to the 1460th Transportation Company as a truck driver, was able to put his American Sign Language training to use.

“I absolutely enjoy and love what I do for work,” said Fitrakis, who works as an ASL interpreter in his civilian career. “I reenlisted back into the MING after a 12-year break to support the vaccination effort to help save lives.”

Fitrakis is a noncommissioned officer with Task Force Spartan, one of four COVID-19 response task forces assembled by the Michigan National Guard to help central Michigan health departments with vaccination clinics. By using ASL, he is able to help the COVID-19 mission in a very unique way.

“I have such a sense of purpose having been able to help support the COVID-19 vaccination clinics and helping people in the state of Michigan get back closer to a time of normalcy,” Fitrakis said.

Fitrakis became ASL certified shortly after 2008. He is passionate about ASL because his mother is hearing impaired.

“My first language technically would be ASL since it was my mother’s language,” said Fitrakis. “Babies can pick up and sign much earlier than they can speak.”

Fitrakis also helps a hearing-impaired roommate. He is fully immersed in the community and is always up to date on the qualifications that go along with his ASL certification.

“ASL is unique in that, unlike spoken English, there are so many parts of the language that looks like fluid, beautiful movements in an orchestrated concert, much like art or acting,” said Fitrakis. “I have been graciously taught by my mother and the many wonderful deaf individuals that have helped sustain me throughout my career. My mother and deaf friends have been my greatest allies helping to get me to a point where I was able to pass the certification requirements in the State of Michigan.”

Wherever his skills are needed - at churches, colleges, comedy shows and political rallies or in his National Guard job – Fitrakis is there to help with translation.