WASHINGTON -- Foundational efforts set through the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Framework were critical to the joint military response to COVID-19, U.S. Army North's commander said Wednesday.
"The National Response Framework works," as U.S. Northern Command synchronized military capabilities to assist Federal Emergency Management Agency missions, said Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson.
Once the pandemic hit, the Army called on thousands of active-duty, National Guard, and Reserve Soldiers to support the government-led response to COVID-19.
As the Joint Force Land Component Command, Army North assisted in that endeavor by sending approximately 10,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines to support 10 states, 31 cities, 47 hospitals, and nine alternate care facilities, Richardson said during this year's Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.
Many of those troops were Army Reserve medical personnel who deployed in scalable teams, officials said.
National Guard members also performed a wide array of missions in response to the virus, said Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, Army National Guard director.
The DOD mobilized the Guard either under federal active-duty service using Title 10 orders or through state-led assistance under Title 32.
At the peak of operations, close to 50,000 Guard Soldiers and Airmen were involved in virus-related missions across the contiguous United States, Jensen added. They supported COVID-19 screening processes by testing more than 9.3 million people and distributed close to 400 million masks, gloves, gowns, and various other equipment to critical points of need.
"Our traditional military skills, developed and honed over multiple overseas deployments and training exercises, were quickly adapted to this new environment,” he said. In this year alone, the Guard also responded to hurricanes and wildfires, civil unrest, and other local and state emergencies.
"This challenging year has shown, once again, the National Guard possesses the capabilities, capacities and connections to respond in mass, while simultaneously supporting the National Defense Strategy," Jensen added.
Additionally, more than 3,000 Reserve Soldiers aided in the rapid mobilization of engineering, legal, and intelligence support, said Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, chief of the Army Reserve.
More than 180 emergency preparedness liaison officers provided advisory support as Army subject-matter experts throughout all 10 FEMA regions. Reservists from the 416th Theater Engineer Command also aided in developing military medical facilities to better support the force at large.
"The Army Reserve has been in this from the beginning, providing the forces and capabilities needed to support the Department of Defense's whole-of-nation response," Daniels added. The Reserve will continue to work with "interagency partners to ensure the health and safety of our Soldiers, families, civilians and retirees, at home and abroad."
Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper focused on three priorities early on: protecting DOD personnel, sustaining mission readiness, and carrying out a government-wide response, said Robert Salesses, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support of Civil Authorities.
As ARNORTH helped prioritize resources at the national level, a joint-agency effort worked to assemble personnel, equipment, and infrastructure to support the growing demand. Government leaders decided to augment forces with Title 10 medical personnel, Richardson said.
Calling up these forces is often considered a "'last resort,'" she added.
In March, DOD leaders deployed three expeditionary field hospitals -- two to New York City and one to Seattle, Richardson said. Many locations in those cities required the use of tents, equipment, medical and support personnel.
"New York City public hospitals desperately needed help," Richardson said. "Medical providers were overwhelmed, overworked, and out of hope. By working with FEMA and the [local] emergency managers, we quickly sent DOD medical providers into those hospitals [and] immediately made an impact.
"The golden rule in responding to a crisis is, 'Don't be late to [a point of] need,'" she added. "This was a sure way of getting the DOD's capabilities there in time by going straight into the hospitals, and not waiting for patients to show up at an alternate care facility."
Quick implementation of force health protection guidance throughout the DOD was also critical to personnel living or operating across all military installations, Salesses said.
Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services led to necessary protection measures and restricted military movements.
Both domestically and internationally, the DOD provided immediate capabilities in response to the virus, Salesses added. The Defense Logistics Agency, for example, worked thousands of contracts to fulfill the government's need for supplies. Meanwhile, the U.S. Transportation Command guaranteed airlift support of crucial materials and assets throughout the country.
Internationally, the DOD assisted over 135 countries by providing laboratory and diagnostic assistance or supplies, all while committing capabilities to more than 30 field hospitals across the combatant commands.
The Army Corps of Engineers was also instrumental in developing alternative care facilities, as their work provided more than 16,000 beds in major cities, he said. Moreover, the Army is continuing to lead a joint-agency effort under Operation Warp Speed to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment.
"As a nation, we learned a lot" during the response, Salasses added. "I think we will carry a lot of these lessons as we move forward."
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