REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – When Col. Matt Hoefer began his service as Army Materiel Command’s command surgeon, he also took on the role as medical translator, a role that he would serve through a significant structure change and a global pandemic.
Hoefer became the command’s surgeon in June 2019, after serving as the command surgeon of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, which he said has different missions and structures. AMC is much larger, with roughly 175,000 service members, civilians and contractors, some working in depots and arsenals within the Organic Industrial Base.
“A lot of what we do here is assess and monitor the health of the OIB,” Hoefer said. “We make sure everyone is receiving the care they need.”
In October 2018, AMC assumed the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. Soon after, the medical research mission transitioned out from AMC and the medical logistics mission stood up as the Army Medical Logistics Command, provisionally activated June 2019. As the command surgeon, Hoefer had the background knowledge of medical equipment and was able to translate the medical logistics jargon to senior leaders at AMC Headquarters.
Hoefer’s ability to translate medical terms and policies continued to aid AMC senior leaders as they made decisions that affected employee health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The science was showing how significant this virus was going to be, and I think we made some great decisions in response,” he said.
Federal organizations began minimizing in-person interactions in March 2020. At this time, AMC was working to maximize telework and adjust to this new fight.
“We were fighting a medical fight, and we were doing it within our borders,” Hoefer said.
As the Army planned its response, Hoefer had a seat at the table. He found himself yet again in a translator role, helping differentiate medical equipment and supplies.
“What are our tools and what do we call those things,” he said. “We made some new terms so everyone would understand.”
From there it was all about taking what AMC and the Army had and fitting these resources into a new environment, balancing the need to keep people safe and the need to meet mission requirements.
“The greatest challenge for any command surgeon is making sure there is a medical plan implemented in command operations,” Hoefer said. “I was a part of the decisions process early. I was making decisions with enough time to affect the problem and decrease risk.”
In addition to contracting for and shipping medical materiel, AMC implemented several measures throughout its offices, garrisons, depots, ammunition plants and arsenals to protect its workforce while meeting mission requirements for the Army and nation. AMC was able to support unit deployments and training while keeping people safe.
Several of the Army’s Organic Industrial Base facilities also began producing, repairing and repurposing equipment to augment the supply of Personal Protective Equipment and other potentially life-saving medical equipment to support the whole-of-government response to COVID-19. The artisan workforce in these facilities worked within the recommended social distancing guidelines, supporting the fight while staying safe.
Hoefer is transitioning to his next assignment, a Senior Service College fellowship. He will study at the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology, where he will focus on global health and preventative medicine.
Hoefer looks back at the COVID-19 fight proud of the professionalism and perseverance of his team. He said while the hours were long, they didn’t feel that way because he and his team were doing something important. He said the Army’s response against COVID-19 was representative of how the Army addresses its challenges.
“Whenever we face an insurmountable problem, we get it done.” he said. “Whatever the problem is globally, AMC has a lot of resources to solve it.”