TAFT – When Taft native Nicholas Vara joined the U.S. Navy in 2015, there was no global COVID-19 pandemic. Actually he had just gotten back from seeing Japan for the first time in February as the rumblings of this new novel coronavirus began to get louder.

While stationed in Portsmouth, Virginia, Vara and his fellow sailors received their next set of orders – head to New York and help out the overworked hospital staff. The USNS Comfort and its crew docked in Manhattan on May 1 and began their monthlong mission.

“I spoke to him ,and he told me that everything was going good,” Nicholas’ aunt Mary Ann Vara said. “He said at the beginning they were only supposed to serve patients that weren’t positive for COVID-19, but then they started taking people that were positive. He mentioned that it was very stressful because they worked so many hours but had a great team.”

Mary Ann said Nicholas felt honored serving his country by doing something that was making history on a global scale.

“He said when they were heading to New York it was like going to war with an invisible enemy,” she added.

Nicholas comes from a long line of military men. His late father SSGT Johnny Vara served in the US Air Force for 20 years. His maternal grandfather was Cpl.Encarnacion Aguilar who served in the U.S. Army and fought in the Korean War, and his paternal grandfather was Sgt. Juan T. Vara of the U.S. Army. He fought in World War II and was in the 44th Infantry Division that participated in the Invasion of Normandy in France on June 6, 1944.

After Nicholas’ father retired from the Air Force he became an EMT which spurred his interest in the medical field.

“That’s what he wanted to do,” Mary Ann said. “He likes the medical field because my brother was a paramedic; and his uncle, my other brother, was a registered nurse and also received the paramedics award when he was in the fire department. So when Nicholas wanted to join, he looked into the medical field.”

The USNS Comfort has more than 1,000 beds, and its crew treated 182 patients while in New York. The ship is now at Naval Station Norfolk where the crew will disinfect and clean it thoroughly over the next eight days before the crew can head back to base where they’ll be quarantined for 14 days. Every crew member has been tested since leaving New York and will be tested again once their quarantine is over.

“His mom, Ester Aguilar, is okay with it all,” Mary Ann said. “She’s very proud of him. He’s a very caring person, and I call him a gentle soul.

“Nicholas was worried about the sick people first and foremost and said, ‘I’m taught to serve, and I’m going to serve regardless if my life is on the line or not.”