UPDATED: Will the Military be Unleashed Against Coronavirus?

Staff Sgt. Lee Rimell, unit deployment manager with the 50th Comptroller Squadron, and Senior Airman William Nash, retirement and separations technician with the 50th CPTS, inspect deployment gear at the 50th Logistics Readiness Flight warehouse at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, June 29, 2018. Schriever UDMs are reminding Airmen of the importance of staying deployment ready at all times. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Tracy)

I wrote this originally WAY BACK on March 11 and I thought it was worth updating in light of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order:

There is a plan for how the U.S. Military would respond in a pandemic. If you’d like to know, you can read it all here.

Here are a few excerpts:

Civil Authorities. DoD will provide support to a civil authority responding to a pandemic influenza when directed by the President or upon approval, by the Secretary of Defense, of a request from a Federal department or agency. This assistance may include support to containment operations.

As we now know, the military did not participate in containment operations. After this is over, I think this is an area that we need to look at further under the general categories of “how do you get people to comply?” as well as “if you wait until you have the testing you need, is it already too late?”

Surge Medical Capability to Assist Civil Authorities. DoD may provide medical surge capability to other Federal, State, or local agencies when requested or directed to by the President or Secretary of Defense.

Here we’ve seen the deployment of U.S.N.S. Comfort and Mercy as well as the construction of a number of hospital facilities. 

The Army Corps of Engineers also has more than 15,000 personnel working with contractors to set up temporary field hospitals and retrofit existing buildings such as convention centers and sports arenas into hospitals to add thousands of additional beds to treat both coronavirus and non-coronavirus patients in New York, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere.

Continuing with the DoD plan:

Patient Transport and Strategic Airlift. DoD will provide transportation support to civilian communities in support of a pandemic influenza preparedness and response efforts, when directed by the President, or upon approval by the Secretary of Defense, of a request from a Federal department or agency.

The one thing the military is really good at is moving a lot of people from point A to point B. The entire question of “where will we get more beds?” may be partially answered by “the military will transport them to where the beds are.” I think we’ll begin to see this in the next few days particularly as New York runs out of beds and ventilators. California, for example, is projected to have excess capacity for beds and ventilators and moving patients from New York to California may be the most expeditious way to reduce the strain on the New York’s health system.

Installation Support to Civilian Agencies. DoD will provide support to civilian communities in support of pandemic influenza preparedness and response efforts, when directed by the President, or upon approval by the Secretary of Defense, of a request from a Federal department or agency.

The answer to “so where will the beds actually be?” could be at a military installation. Something else the military is really good at is housing and feeding people. We’ve heard some indication of the use of VA hospitals although it looks like the VA has it’s own problems:

Provide Defense Assistance for Civil Disturbances. When directed by the President, DoD will provide support to civil authorities in the event of a civil disturbance. DoD will augment civilian law enforcement efforts to restore and maintain order in accordance with existing statutes.

We can hope it doesn’t come to that.

Mortuary Affairs. Mortuary Affairs (MA) capabilities within DoD are extremely limited. When directed by the President, or upon approval by the Secretary of Defense, of a request from a Federal department or agency, DoD can provide search, recovery, receiving, processing, and can coordinate evacuation of remains of the deceased.

And we really don’t want to go there!

Considerable demand for ventilators is likely, especially in the event that the pandemic occurs before a vaccine is available. Where feasible, consideration should be given to stockpiling instead of “just-in-time” acquisition of adequate numbers of ventilators, antiviral drugs, and other medical supplies including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Well, as we now know, while there was a Federal stockpile, it was considerably smaller than it should have been. I’m sure this will all be investigated when this is over although we’ll be awash in ventilators and PPE at that point.

The military also has plans for utilizing reserve medical personnel which is another resource at the president’s disposal. He can also utilize the National Guard although this is actually less likely since many of these people may already be participating through their day jobs.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Posse Comitatus Act that prevents the military from being used within the United States unless specifically authorized by Congress. The Congress has in fact created a number of statutory exceptions to that Act, including for disaster relief and for counterterrorism, and weapons of mass destruction prevention and response activities. Whether the ACLU will agree in this instance, we might get to find out.


Mark Rosneck

Written by Mark Rosneck

Site owner and bilagáana

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