Defense Department planners are working on how to resume normal military operations following the coronavirus pandemic, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said.
Because defense is a full-time necessity, the military cannot shut down, Hoffman said at a Pentagon news conference April 24. Still, officials curtailed exercises, limited training, stopped military moves and took other measures in an effort to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections.
"We'll be evaluating many different areas," Hoffman said. "One is training — how are we protecting our trainees, and how are we keeping the pipeline full? We're continuing to look at that, continuing to adopt and adapt so that we can pursue full training classes in the future."
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper is also closely following the stop-movement order. The order goes until June 30. "But once it is lifted — and the secretary is reevaluating that every 15 days — how are we going to deal with the backlog of individuals that need to move throughout the world?" Hoffman said.
This is a complex issue, and the planners at the U.S. Transportation Command have the lead for the department.
DOD has done a good job of protecting strategic forces, but officials are still going to look at the process to see if there aren't better ways to do this in the future, Hoffman said.
Even if there is a return to normal, the virus will still be around. DOD planners are looking at the testing program, and officials are putting the final touches on the system it will employ and getting the supplies that will be needed. DOD scientists and doctors are also heavily involved in developing a vaccine and for treatment protocols for COVID-19, Hoffman said.
"We're going to be doing that for months and months going forward," he added.
Finally, the department is looking at the industrial base with an eye to replenishing the DOD stockpile in case of future crises, and to produce more equipment for the coronavirus fight, he said.
Hoffman announced that the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will soon leave New York City. It will return to its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, to restock and get ready for another mission, if needed. "We'll be looking to [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to identify where that next location is; they are the federal government's lead on this, and so they're the ones who will be tasking us," he said.
Hoffman cited "modest progress" in mitigating the virus in the nation's hardest-hit city, calling that "a welcome sign." The rate of infections in New York is declining, he noted, adding that there are still many places where this is not the case and that the department stands ready to assist.
"As of today, we have more than 60,000 personnel deployed nationwide, including 4,400 medical professionals on the front lines," Hoffman said.