Capt. Michael A. Honsberger is no stranger to crisis response operations on the historic scale of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nineteen years ago, he was an emergency medical technician in New York City during the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Since then, he has served as a combat medic for a parachute infantry regiment and has 10 years under his belt as a medical operations, plans and intelligence officer. Another stand-out bullet on his resume is a Master’s Degree in Disaster Medicine and Management from Jefferson University.
Clearly, he would be the right person to lead the emergency operations cell at Kenner Army Health Clinic and command teams here had to coordinate no farther than the Army Logistics University, where he has been serving as an instructor/writer and small group leader in the Captains Career Training Department, to bring him onboard.
Another fortuitous find of on-the-ground talent is Capt. Daysha Liggins, a Preventive Medicine and Environmental Science officer, called forth from the Quartermaster School’s Joint Culinary Training Center. Rounding out the EOC team are five medical service corps officers who recently graduated from the Logistics Captains Career Course but are remaining at Fort Lee until DOD travel restrictions are lifted.
“This is what we are trained to do,” Honsberger observed. “We build a dynamic team of multifunctional Sustainers, adapt quickly to situations, and make deliberate progress toward accomplishing our mission.
“The medical service corps officers were asked to step forward in support of the COVID-19 response operations at local installations,” he further noted, “and this is an example of the outcome. We’re in the fight, contributing the medical knowledge we have to stop the spread of the virus and safeguard the health and welfare of the military community.”
The purpose of the EOC is to collect COVID-19 data and synchronize the communication of need-to-know information with the Combined Arms Support Command, which in turn provides guidance to units and others at Fort Lee. The EOC is comprised of two cells. The one at Kenner focuses on current and projected medical operations and planning based on medical intelligence while incorporating preventive medicine, environmental sciences, logistics and emergency management to develop a comprehensive common operating picture.
“Our main purpose is to ensure Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Army Civilians and their family members understand the threat COVID-19 poses and ensure they remain healthy and safe during this time of uncertainty,” Honsberger said. “We also assist the KAHC command staff by strengthening the synergistic relationship with the CASCOM command team and staff personnel. The flow of accurate information is vital to reducing the spread of this virus, so that’s what we do – keep the conversation going and track the lessons learned so we’re constantly building on the process and working toward the right outcome, which is keeping COVID-19 from gaining a foothold at Fort Lee.”
The other EOC cell is located at CASCOM and its focus is on reporting and advising key leaders. “They provide information similar to a command surgeon cell, which enables decision making,” Honsberger summarized.
“Looking at the bigger picture beyond lines of communication between KAHC and CASCOM, we’re enabling TRADOC to see a current and future operational picture of COVID-19’s impact at the Sustainment Center of Excellence,” Honsberger added. “The EOC is capturing everything Fort Lee is doing to mitigate the effects of this pandemic while continuing its primary TRADOC missions.”
The team is extremely proud of its contributions, the captain emphasized. By capturing lessons learned and producing after action reviews, they are contributing to preparedness for future outbreaks – a notion that appears to be a near-certainty until a vaccination is found for COVID-19.
“It’s pretty obvious at this point that early mitigation and prevention activities are essential to lessening the impact of a health emergency, especially contagious pathogens that threaten a large population,” Honsberger said. “The questions are how early and to what degree, considering the potential training and readiness disruptions of social distancing, travel restrictions and avoidance of large gatherings.”
Thus, the EOC’s purpose becomes clear. Promoting communication and capturing data leads to better-informed decisions now and in the future.
“Looking at it from a health community standpoint, this experience has been beyond valuable,” Honsberger concluded. “The newer officers in the group were reacquainted with how EOC’s operate and what has to be done to ensure information flows from one organization to another so it’s beneficial to all concerned. Most of us learned a lot more about the functions of Preventive Medicine that we hadn’t experienced before. It’s an important mission, and everyone on the team feels proud to have played a part in it.”
The EOCs will be disbanded when social distancing restrictions are lifted, according to the captain. He will return to teaching at ALU. Liggins will finalize her retirement. The remaining medical service officers will carry out their permanent change of station moves away from Fort Lee, carrying with them invaluable experiences they will pay forward in their many years of service to come.