Swift Response Helped Army Weather Pandemic

Swift Response Helped Army Weather Pandemic

Soldier receiving vaccine
Photo by: U.S. Army/Spc. Elsi Delgado

The Army met its mission requirements and kept its people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the service’s swift and efficient response to the crisis, a senior Army official said.

“The Army showed yet again that in times of crisis, we will answer the nation’s call,” Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo testified Feb. 28 before the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel during a hearing to explore the impact of COVID-19 on DoD and its service members.

He was joined by his counterparts from the Army’s sister services and Gilbert Cisneros Jr., undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

While acknowledging that the pandemic took “hundreds of lives in the Army community,” including 64 soldiers, Camarillo noted that the Army “took deliberate steps to protect our personnel across two administrations.” 

The efforts include establishing teleworking policies and contact tracing protocols and implementing the DoD requirement that soldiers be vaccinated against the virus. This requirement, he said, was carried out carefully, with deliberate education and exemption processes.

“Our efforts enabled the Army to continue to participate in training events and exercises, conduct operations worldwide, and to maintain a high level of readiness,” Camarillo said.

The Army also played a key role in pandemic response at home, he said. “While we worked as part of a team, the Army took on the lion’s share of work to acquire and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, test kits, masks, gloves, supplies and equipment where they were needed most,” Camarillo said.

In all, more than 5,000 soldiers from all components deployed to support the national COVID-19 response, he said. “They are always ready, and as the pandemic showed us, always make our nation proud,” Camarillo said.

Camarillo’s testimony came on the heels of a Feb. 24 memo by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth rescinding all policies associated with the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. The vaccine mandate was rescinded by DoD on Jan. 10.

Soldiers who sought an exemption on religious, administrative or medical grounds will no longer be separated for refusing to receive the COVID vaccine, the memo says. Additionally, the memo says ongoing reviews of exemption requests have stopped and are deemed resolved, and soldiers’ records will be updated to remove or correct any adverse actions or flags associated with request denials. 

Accessions and commissioning programs no longer require proof of the vaccine, and former soldiers can request records corrections with the Army Discharge Review Board and the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, the memo says.

“I am proud of the efforts the Department of the Army has taken to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wormuth says in the memo. “We will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all personnel to ensure readiness, facilitate mission accomplishment and protect the force.”

The memo is available here.