FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Whenever a disaster strikes, the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters activates a Crisis Action Team (CAT).
“They are the heart of this formation,” said Brig. Gen. Dustin Shultz, the general officer in charge of Army Reserve operations – also known as the G3/5/7. “I have truly been inspired by their actions, tireless days, and tireless nights.”
Under different circumstances, hundreds of officers and senior enlisted Soldiers would huddle into a secured room at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, taking shifts to run 24-hour operations. Huge screens at the front update every few hours with maps, graphs and stats to show the latest estimates. How many reserve Soldiers are impacted? How many are deployed into action? Key members work at designated computer stations, often elbow-to-elbow or hovering over screens in groups as they share information.
Then COVID-19 arrived, a pandemic with a virus that thrives in close combat.
“We’d expected a different fight, in a different place, against a different foe … but this is the fight we’re in, and we’re here to win it,” said Lt. Gen. Charles D. Luckey, chief of Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command, in recent comments to his formation of 200,000 Soldiers and civilians.
Fighting this battle with hundreds of people packed into a single room was not going to work against this enemy. The rules changed. Organizations are adapting across the globe. The U.S. Army Reserve adapted as well to fight back.
“Our systems weren’t designed – we weren’t designed to operate this way,” said Shultz.
“The business industry and the military train that the best way to get a team rowing in the same direction is by bringing them together … (But) we’re having to do this distributed … The staff is rethinking how it does business,” she said.
For more than 45 days, the Crisis Action Team has been working nights and weekends to respond to support U.S. Army North to meet the needs of the American public, civil authorities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“Our mission is normally to do battle with a foreign enemy, and now our mission is to save American lives,” said Maj. Gen. A.C. Roper, the deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve.
Through teleworking and VPN, the Army Reserve collaborates in the digital realm. The Crisis Action Team responds to demands within hours, not days. Its staff “flattened” communication so more parties can receive the same information at once and answer questions rapidly. They increased phone lines and conference rooms for more people to attend at multiple locations.
“The Army has some of the best doctrine in the world,” said Shultz, referencing how this pandemic has caused her staff to operate with a new playbook. “There needs to be a balance of strong doctrine with brilliant vision, leadership and innovation.”
Such innovation resulted in the Army Reserve forming new medical teams that never existed before. They assembled 15 Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces (UAMTF), each made of 85 medical Soldiers of various specialties, making up more than 1,200 Soldiers.
"This is our war. Never in the history of the United States military has medical been the warfighter, but we are the warfighter," said Maj. Gen. Joe Robinson, the commanding general of the 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support), during an impassioned speech to his troops. "We are the tip of the spear."
The 3rd Med. Com., along with the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support), and the Army Reserve Medical Command provided the Soldiers who aggregated to form these task forces.
“We call it a non-doctrinal mission. It’s not something that we train for. It’s not something that’s in our manuals,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph Heck, commanding general of the 807th Med. Com. “The beginning to the Soldier’s Creed is, ‘I serve the people of the United States and live the Army values.’ That’s what we’re demonstrating across the country right now.”
Most of the 15 Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces have already mobilized to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Boston and Detroit in recent days. The remainder will move out as soon as civil authorities determine which cities have the greatest need.
“Two weeks ago, these (medical) formations didn’t exist. Within days, we were able to build them, fill them, provide leadership in the right places, move them out and get them into action,” Shultz said.
Yet, the Army Reserve is providing more than medical experts. In all, nearly 3,000 Soldiers have been called to the fight. Most of them have already arrived, boots on the ground, to support in a broad spectrum of job specialties.
“We have various other formations throughout our nation supporting this fight to kill the virus today,” said Shultz.
Those Soldiers are providing logistics, administrative, engineering, military intelligence, transportation, liaison and military history expertise, among others.
More than a hundred emergency planning liaison officers (EPLOs) are distributed across FEMA teams as advisors and Army subject matter experts. Expeditionary Soldiers are providing life and administrative support to troops moving through mobilization stations. Military intelligence Soldiers are using their analytical skills to gather information in Defense Support to Civil Authorities operations. Fixed-wing aviators are transporting military medical personnel to some of the hardest-hit areas.
Logistics and sustainment Soldiers are helping move medical supplies, equipment and personnel from home stations all the way to their final destinations. Specialized engineer teams are ready to join a fusion cell to provide engineering planning and experience. Judge advocates and paralegals are advising FEMA on Department of Defense legal matters and policies. Military history detachments are moving out to serve as the eye of Army history.
“America’s Army Reserve Soldiers are truly doing great things,” said Shultz. “Within days, they engaged. They answered the call with leadership, energy and execution. They represent the best of us.”
The Army Reserve is made up of nearly 200,000 Soldiers serving across 20 different time zones. They had been training for the potential of a mass mobilization for years under a structure known as “Ready Force X.”
“We stand ready to support the needs of our nation,” said Shultz. “(For years) we designed a strategy that operationalized America’s Army Reserve, and now we’re executing that strategy.”
In the midst of social distancing, units and Soldiers have also had to find innovative ways to complete their monthly training. Soldier Virtual Battle Assemblies were instituted to allow Soldiers to increase readiness online and through teleworking. Units and Soldiers are doing whatever they can to stay ready while also minimizing the risk of contagion. In the midst of all of this, Army Reserve Soldiers have been asking their leadership how they can volunteer to help their nation. Thousands of military members have volunteered to return to duty after having already retired or completing their contract obligations.
“If you are (an Army Reserve Soldier), know that you have my personal gratitude. You have the gratitude of our nation. You are making an impact and a difference. You’re making a moment in history,” said Shultz.
Beside the medical commands already mentioned above, the following Army Reserve organizations will mobilize or have already mobilized Soldiers in support against COVID-19: 377th Theater Sustainment Command, 76th Operational Response Command, 79th Theater Sustainment Command, 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 412th Theater Engineer Command, Military Intelligence Readiness Command, U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command, U.S. Army Reserve Aviation Command as well as military history detachments belonging to various readiness divisions.