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NEWS | Oct. 6, 2021

AUSA to host COVID-19 pandemic response forum

By Col. Lawanda Warthen Director, U.S. Army Medical Command Public Affairs

The 2021 Association of the United States Army annual meeting will address lessons learned from the Army’s pandemic response, specifically accelerating the all-of-nation response at one of eight contemporary military forums on Oct. 13. The panel lead is Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, U.S. Army Surgeon General and Commanding General, U.S. Army Medical Command.

Panelists will include:

  • Retired Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, Countermeasure Acceleration Group (previously known as Operation Warp Speed)
  • Maj. Gen. Robert F. Whittle, Deputy Commanding General, Joint Force Land Component Commander, U.S. Army North (NORTHCOM)
  • Maj. Gen. Joe Robinson, Commander 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support)
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, President of the Federal Programs, WSP, and former Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
  • Command Sgt. Maj. Victor Lariagione, U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (MRDC).
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, AUSA Senior Fellow; President, OptumServe; and former Army Surgeon General and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Command, will moderate the forum.
The panelists’ extensive expertise covers the spectrum of providing a joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational response to COVID-19, demonstrating the importance of military innovation in medicine, procurement, and logistical support as well as strong partnerships to accelerate solutions for defeating COVID-19 in the country and worldwide.
The panelists and the information they will present will discuss our nation’s efforts in defeating COVID-19 aligned with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s top three priorities: defending the nation; taking care of our people, and succeeding through teamwork.

As Austin asserted, “The Department will continue to act boldly and quickly to support federal government efforts to defeat the disease, defend the force against it, and work with our domestic and international partners to protect our nation from potential novel and deadly viruses of the future. We will continue to provide direct support to the Federal Government's vaccination efforts and encourage vaccination participation by military personnel to remain ready and able to continue to protect our Nation at home and abroad. Both of these challenges demand of us an aggressive effort to inform and educate people about the safety and efficacy of available vaccines and protective measures.”

COVID-19 and People
Globally, the coronavirus has affected more than 200 million people and killed more than 4 million individuals. In the U.S., more than 43 million people have been infected, with more than 700,000 dying. This virus does not discriminate, affecting people from all echelons and walks of life. The military is not immune. The DOD has reported more than 350,000 cases of COVID-19.
Unlike the 1775–1782 smallpox pandemic that ravaged North America and parts of South America, decimating the ranks of Continental Army soldiers during the Revolutionary War, humans have never seen a pandemic of this magnitude. Although the mechanics of an outbreak response are similar, regardless of the disease process or medical event, those same steps must now be applied on a much larger scale in the face of the coronavirus.
Role of Public Health
The Army’s Public Health continues to lead the way. Its immunization program plays a positive, direct, and specific approach to disease prevention and control. According to Dingle, “The top priority of Army Medicine is protecting the health of the force. This will allow us to maintain operational readiness. It will also allow us to support the national response to COVID-19.”
For more than 18 months, the Army’s Public Health experts have been the Army’s go-to consultants in the fight against COVID-19, enabling the entire Army team to respond in a dynamic and aggressive manner to protect the health of the force and the nation. As the COVID-19 virus rapidly spread across the globe, the Army took swift measures to maintain operational readiness while supporting U.S. government agencies’ national response.
Throughout the pandemic response, Army public health professionals have kept the Army enterprise informed of the swiftly moving science around COVID-19 and the best practices for operational risk management. In addition to establishing the COVID-19 Task Force, they collaborated with Training and Doctrine Command to establish COVID-19 operating procedures and mitigation measures for initial entry training soldiers to prevent COVID transmission.
Furthermore, the Army’s Public Health has been supporting the Army’s information needs through the development and maintenance of information products, such as the Common Operating Picture Dashboard, which includes visual representation of the data on lab metrics, MTF bed status, and personnel statistics, time trends, and trajectories.
Army’s Public Health work with the Army and Defense modeling community was instrumental in communicating to both Chief McConville and Secretary Wormuth the impact of this pandemic on treatment facilities—both with and without austere control measures. Such work also enabled decisions at the tactical level and expanded the effect of the Army COVID-19 Model for Epidemics platform by establishing capability quickly and training users to engage directly.
The COVID-19 Task Force answered more than 1,650 requests for information guiding more than 200 organizations, including each of the Geographic Combatant Commands, Army Commands, and DOD organizations around the globe. In addition, the Task Force:
  • Established the Army Public Health Laboratory Enterprise COVID-19 surveillance concept and capability, which analyzes more than 2,000 samples per week;
  • Recommended and developed guidance and engineering controls specifically for MTFs to help them assess and optimize their existing heating and air conditioning systems and ensure the ability to accommodate surges of COVID-19 cases, as necessary;
  • Worked closely with our Army Veterinary Services, providing the most up-to-date information on the relationship between COVID-19 and animals; and
  • Responded to more than 6,200 COVID hotline calls requesting assistance.
The Whole-of-Government Approach
In an interview with AUSA, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said the Army remains committed to helping defeat the virus as part of the whole-of-government team. “Right now, we have this domestic enemy, this invisible enemy called COVID,” he said. “We all should do what we can to defeat this virus. The Army is committed to making this happen.”
Partnering with other organizations made it possible to make great strides in combating the pandemic, as evident with the Department of Army and DOD as part of the whole-of-government response. The whole-of-government response included OWS, Army North, the Army Guard and Reserve, and the Army Corps of Engineers in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services, a number of other government agencies and the private sector.

The Army also performed critical roles in public health, as the lead in DOD COVID-19 laboratory testing efforts, expanding virtual health access, and increasing access to behavioral health providers.

The military’s experience and ability to support the civilian sector as part of a team was seen in the Total Army Medicine Force strategy that utilized Component (COMPO) 2 (Army National Guard) and 3 (Army Reserve) military medical personnel. It enabled a significant force to respond by setting up vaccination sites, staffing hospitals, and forming the Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces (UAMTFs).
These efforts augmented the personnel in civilian hospitals and collectively demonstrated the important role that Guard and Reserve Soldiers play every day, around the world to defend and protect their nation. They are also in keeping with Secretary of Defense Austin’s directive to fully vaccinate all members of the Armed Forces under DOD authority.
People are the Army’s greatest strength, and Army Medicine continues to be ready, relevant, and responsive by playing a key role in supporting a medically ready joint force. As Dingle explained, “We will never fail to keep them healthy and provide world-class health care.”