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General Compares DOD's COVID-19 Response to All-Out War

April 1, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is an all-out war that's being approached as a large-scale military campaign, the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command said.

Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, joined by Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, briefed Pentagon reporters today by phone on the Northcom COVID-19 response.

Men in safety gear in a large, empty building.
Building Access
Engineers from the Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento and San Francisco districts assess a building for potential use as an alternate care facility in northern California, March 31, 2020.
Photo By: Kenneth Wright, Army
VIRIN: 200331-A-PZ859-0089

As of today, 5,600 Northcom personnel are involved in the response in a wide variety of ways, O'Shaughnessy said, adding that many more are ready to aid in the effort in support of state and local authorities.

The Navy hospital ships USNS Comfort in New York City and USNS Mercy in Los Angeles are receiving non-COVID-19 patients, he said, lessening the patient load of local hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. The Navy is also deploying a large expeditionary medical unit from Jacksonville, Florida, that will be split between Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and New Orleans to expand medical capability. They, too, will receive non-COVID-19 patients, he said.

Three large Army field hospitals will be mobilized and deployed to support non-COVID-19 medical efforts in the Seattle area, and two in the New Jersey-New York City area, he said.

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"The scope of our response is unprecedented,” O'Shaughnessy said. “And we're prepared to respond even more as needed."

Richardson noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is taking the lead on where medical assets are placed, and the Defense Department is fully integrated with the agency's efforts and response.

"Our military usually deploys around the world," she said. "And now, we're serving right here in the homeland with all of the great American heroes: doctors, nurses and medics on the front line." 

People with face masks walk around a car.
Coronavirus Tests
Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group conduct COVID-19 tests on people entering Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., March 23, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Alexander Cook
VIRIN: 200323-F-BQ566-1004

In addition to helping American civilians, O'Shaughnessy said, DOD is defending the homeland and deployed forces from adversaries while protecting the health of the force.

On several occasions in March, he noted, U.S. and Canadian fighter pilots intercepted multiple Russian aircraft off the coast of Alaska to ensure the Russians stayed in international air space.