The Fight Against COVID-19: A Total Army Approach
For 245 years, U.S. Army forces have served and defended the nation, whether fighting against malicious foreign militaries or battling nontraditional security threats at home. Today, our country is facing an extraordinary challenge, and the Army is standing shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens as we help local, state and federal governments protect America against an unseen enemy.
The Army is uniquely suited to respond to the coronavirus pandemic because of our multicomponent structure. All components—Regular Army, National Guard and Army Reserve—are in the fight. Through them, the Army is supporting local, state and federal requirements with unique capabilities, while maintaining trained and ready forces that can respond to multiple simultaneous contingencies worldwide.
In March, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, which fast-tracked resources across federal, state and local governments to combat the coronavirus pandemic in a whole-of-government approach that is federally supported, state managed and locally executed. The Army responded rapidly by providing support from the Regular Army and Army Reserve. Meanwhile, we worked with the states so governors could largely retain control of Army National Guard units and prioritize their missions based on local requirements.
The Army immediately responded by deploying two active-duty hospital units to New York and two to Washington state to increase local capacity to treat non-COVID-19 patients, easing the burden on local community hospitals. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers redesigned the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City into a nearly 3,000-bed health care facility, equipping it with Federal Emergency Management Agency deployable hospital equipment. In a different approach, the Army deployed its own hospital equipment to the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle, establishing a 250-bed facility at that location. The USACE continues to provide “build” options to local and state leaders across the country, helping them tailor each location to local requirements. These efforts are ongoing in Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit and will continue to expand to other cities as needed.
As Regular Army and Army Reserve units surge to support the most overwhelmed regions of the country, governors in all 54 states and territories activated their Army National Guard units to provide critical capabilities for local incident response commanders. Army National Guard units have been on the front lines from the beginning, distributing food and supplies, providing transportation, supporting drive-thru testing facilities and providing planning expertise in support of state governments and FEMA, ensuring each state gets the tailored support it needs. These men and women of the Army National Guard are our neighbors, they own small businesses, they are teachers and first responders, and they are answering the call to protect America. Their actions enable the states to progressively expand operations as conditions change on the ground.
This model of drawing on all three Army components is now being applied to critical areas around the country. The Army’s deep bench of capabilities across our force encompasses over 1.3 million soldiers and civilians, which allows us to respond immediately when our nation calls and to continue the mission in support of the joint force as long as we are needed to win. For instance, the Army deployed active-duty hospitals in a matter of days, with minimal impact to global operations or to our own medical treatment facilities, because we were able to backfill these units with Army professionals from less-impacted installations across the country. We are also activating Army medical reserve units to extend this Army support around the country, so our Regular Army units can return home and remain prepared for other missions.
We often talk about Army capability in terms of warfighting units, such as brigade combat teams and division headquarters. Many overlook, however, the Army’s large amount of enabling capabilities that are critical to large-scale contingency operations. For example, the Army is establishing comprehensive logistics networks to support our military units working in health care facilities around the country, providing food, lodging, laundry and other services so our health care professionals can remain focused on their front line mission of caring for patients.
The Army is also directly supporting the whole-of-government effort through the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, which conducts medical research and executes the development and acquisition of medical products, equipment and technologies. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Army researchers at two of the command’s labs, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, are accelerating research efforts on one of the 24 currently viable vaccine candidates. Additionally, the Army has nine labs around the world supporting clinical and surveillance COVID testing efforts. Collectively, those labs are capable of processing 1,350 tests daily.
Another set of unique capabilities in the Army is our organic industrial base, which consists of 26 manufacturing arsenals, maintenance depots and ammunition plants spread across the country. These facilities are assessing ways to retool assembly lines, maintenance facilities and manufacturing capabilities to produce, repair or repurpose equipment such as N95 masks or ventilator components to address global shortages of personal protective equipment and other potentially lifesaving medical equipment. This shows how our Total Army, including our civilian workforce, is focused on supporting the federal response effort.
History has shown time and again that the Army will be called to fight on multiple fronts simultaneously. The Army is able to respond rapidly to protect the American people during this coronavirus pandemic because we maintain a high level of readiness across our entire force—Regular Army, National Guard and Army Reserve. While we continue to respond in full force to protect our nation at home against the coronavirus, over 190,000 soldiers are deployed worldwide, conducting combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, creatively working with our allies and partners, and deterring rogue actors and great-power competitors who may seek to exploit the current situation with opportunistic attacks. It is as important as ever that we maintain our strong presence worldwide to protect our nation’s interests while we continue the fight against the coronavirus.
The Army has chosen to modify some of its scheduled training and exercises to protect the health and well-being of our soldiers and their communities. But we continue to work with our allies and partners around the world to ensure our readiness. For example, while we scaled back the Defender-Europe 2020 exercise, we still achieved many of our strategic readiness objectives, demonstrating the Army’s ability to coordinate large-scale movements of vehicles and equipment from the U.S. through multiple ports and into Europe. Additionally, we have soldiers in Thailand who continue to train alongside the Royal Thai Army with robust medical screening procedures in place. And while we maintain readiness through these training events, we are also continuing to modernize the Army, with necessary safety precautions in place, so we can maintain our advantage over great-power competitors for the longer term.
It is the grit and determination of our great people—our soldiers, families, civilians and soldiers for life—who form the foundation of our Army and make these efforts possible. In this time of crisis, the U.S. Army is answering the nation’s call. We will continue to support the whole-of-government approach with the full force of our capabilities to protect the homeland, while also maintaining our posture worldwide to deter adversaries who might mistakenly think our guard is down. The U.S. Army is fully engaged and will continue to provide every capability in our arsenal to support the nation’s efforts and defeat the virus.