U.S. service members and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians take an oath to defend America “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” As America fights to defeat the novel coronavirus, U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and DoD civilians are honoring their oaths here at home in extraordinary ways and saving countless lives in the process.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have contracted the coronavirus, with tens of thousands of Americans dying. And the Department of Defense has not been immune — 4,976 service members and DoD civilians have contracted the coronavirus. There have been 14 associated deaths, with Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok of the New Jersey Army National Guard marking the first U.S. service member to succumb to the virus.
And 814 family members of those serving in uniform have become infected. As of Friday morning, four have died, as well as eight contractors, 423 of whom have contracted the virus.
Despite this, America’s service members and DoD civilians have put aside concerns for themselves and their families and stood with fellow heroes in the medical community in order to “flatten the curve.”
Americans who have benefited from the self-sacrifice and service of DoD personnel certainly do not need a reminder. But other Americans cloistered in their homes should know how the U.S. military is helping to fight the coronavirus.
Their domestic contributions can be seen in the numbers of service members supporting the effort and the additional medical capacity and services provided.
In fact, DoD has over 61,000 personnel deployed around the U.S. to fight the coronavirus pandemic. This includes approximately 4,400 doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel bolstering hospital capacity in especially hard-hit areas. It also includes more than 43,700 members of the Army and Air National Guard who are supporting the COVID-19 response as well.
Each one of these numbers represents an individual who has ventured out of their home, left their families, potentially exposed themselves to the virus, and performed a tremendous service. They have helped manufacture personal protective equipment, distribute medical equipment and food, transform venues into makeshift hospitals, and support community-based testing sites.
The Army has established Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces that are providing critical support in the hardest hit areas on the east coast as well as in Detroit.
Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are working to add 15,800 beds by converting hotels, dormitories, and convention centers into 32 alternate care facilities.
DoD personnel on the U.S. Naval Ships Mercy and Comfort have sailed to Los Angeles and New York, respectively, providing 1,000 additional beds each, including intensive care unit beds and operating rooms. Both ships began accepting patients within days after arriving at their respective ports.
The Army deployed four active duty field hospitals, and established alternative care facilities in New York and Washington state.
And utilizing the Defense Production Act, Pentagon contracting experts are delivering more than 39 million N95 respirator masks over the next 90 days. DoD has already delivered 10 million N95 masks to other federal agencies. The Pentagon has also worked to obtain 60 systems that can decontaminate up to 80,000 N95 respirator masks daily, allowing those masks to be reused. Meanwhile, the Defense Logistics Agency has worked to provide 8,000 ventilators.
America’s service members have also provided invaluable transportation support. Air Force C-17 crews delivered over 3.5 million swabs for coronavirus test kits from Italy for distribution around the United States. Members of the California Air National Guard transported 500 state-owned ventilators to support efforts in four other states. C-130s crews moved 7.8 tons of cargo and hundreds of personnel to the Army field hospitals set up in New York and Washington state. Air Force crews have evacuated COVID-positive patients from remote areas and helped hundreds of U.S. citizens return home from abroad.
Meanwhile, researchers at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland are working to create a vaccine for the coronavirus.
The death toll from the coronavirus in the United States has been horrible, but it would likely have been even worse if it were not for the U.S. military’s efforts.
Eventually, the United States will defeat the coronavirus. When that finally happens, it will be clear that U.S. service members and DoD civilians will have played an indispensable role.
Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Maj. Liane Zivitski is a visiting military analyst. Views expressed or implied in this commentary are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air University, the U.S. Air Force, the Defense Department, or any other U.S. government agency.
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