Feature   Know Your Military

DOD COVID-19 Response Continues Long History of Aiding Civilians

April 27, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, active duty military, reserve and National Guard service members are responding in various ways, from providing medical support and logistics to transportation and food delivery. 

This isn't the first time the Defense Department has assisted civil authorities in the United States.

In the early 1920s, President Warren G. Harding ordered the Marines to protect mail delivery service after millions of dollars were stolen in a rash of mail robberies. Armed Marines guarded mail trucks and trains throughout the United States, with orders to shoot if necessary. Robberies of the mail completely stopped.

Armed Marines stand beside mail delivery truck.
Mail Security
Marines guard U.S. mail in the early or mid-1920s at an unknown location.
Photo By: Marine Corps
VIRIN: 260422-O-ZZ999-001

However, by the mid-1920s, the Marines had withdrawn from this duty, and robberies again became frequent. So once more, the Marines were sent in. Robberies ceased, and when the Marines later withdrew, mail robberies were no longer a problem.

One of the most destructive floods in the United States was known as the Great Mississippi Flood of 1926 and 1927. About 500 people lost their lives, and more than 700,000 became homeless. As a result, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build levees along the river.

Soldiers carry a man-made barrier into place.
Barrier Placement
Louisiana National Guardsmen carry a barrier on Avoca Island near Morgan City, La., Jan. 9, 2016. The barriers were used in the construction of a 2-mile long levee to prevent flooding from reaching Morgan City and other towns in southern Louisiana due to high river levels.
Photo By: Army Spc. Garrett Dipuma
VIRIN: 160109-A-YG824-002

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, causing massive flooding in those and several other states, including in the city of New Orleans, which was especially hard-hit. About 1,200 people died as a result of the flooding, and millions were left homeless.

The Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, active duty service members, guardsmen and reservists were called on to help with rescue, recovery, cleanup efforts and rebuilding.

A patient on a stretcher is carried by military people across a tarmac.
Patient Transport
Louisiana National Guardsmen and health care providers transport a patient from a helicopter into the terminal of New Orleans airport for treatment during Hurricane Katrina, Sept. 4, 2005.
Photo By: Air Force
VIRIN: 050904-F-0055L-043

One of the worst snowstorms ever to hit Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and all of New England was the blizzard of 1978, which raged from Jan. 26 to Feb. 7. Record snowfalls occurred throughout the region, and about 100 people were killed. Weather forecasting at the time was spotty, and many motorists got stranded on roads. The National Guard used helicopters and tactical vehicles to rescue those stranded and manned emergency centers.

A man in military pilot clothing stands outside a helicopter in the snow. There's a school bus in the background.
Blizzard Response
Army Sgt. James Monroe of Troop N, 107th Armored Cavalry, stands outside a UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter after it landed at Perrysburg High School, in Perrysburg, Ohio, Jan. 26, 1978, during state active duty operations in support of citizens affected by the blizzard of 1978. Ohio National Guard helicopter crews worked around the clock on medical evacuation, rescue and resupply missions, averaging more than 200 flights a day during the peak period.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Mya Crosby
VIRIN: 780126-O-ZZ999-001

The Defense Department, as well as other government agencies and civilian companies, have increasingly come under attack from Russia, China, terrorists and criminals, both to disrupt service as well as steal intellectual property. In 2018, DOD issued its U.S. National Cyber Strategy, which includes protecting the American people and businesses by safeguarding networks and data and strengthening the ability of the United States allies and partners to deter and punish those who use cyber maliciously.

More recently, DOD has also been tasked with monitoring and ensuring secure elections.

Those are just a few of the many examples of the department protecting the homeland. Others include fighting wildfires and providing security at major events such as the Super Bowl.