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DOD's Top Leaders Conduct Town Hall Meeting on COVID-19

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The Defense Department has provided medical equipment to federal agencies in need, and DOD's top-tier research scientists and medical professionals are working with the private sector to develop a vaccine, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said in a live-streamed town hall meeting from the Pentagon.

The secretary was joined today by Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón "CZ" Colón-López.


"[DOD is] also working to develop therapeutics to help us get through this crisis as quickly as possible, and on top of that, we continue to maintain our top mission, which is making sure the United States remains safe and secure," Esper said.

He outlined his three priorities for the department's COVID-19 response:

Protecting soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians and their families;
Preserving essential mission capabilities to continue defending the American people, the United States and its interests abroad; and
Providing full support to the whole-of-government response to the pandemic.
 Everyone must do their part to reduce the spread of the virus, Esper said. 

A group of guardsmen test medical equipment at a field medical station.
Equipment Test
New Jersey National Guard combat medic specialists assigned to Joint Task Force 57 test an electrocardiogram machine at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J., April 6, 2020. The New Jersey National Guard medical staff is assisting state and local officials in operating a field medical station in support of the COVID-19 relief effort.
Photo By: Army Spc. Michael Schwenk, New Jersey Army National Guard
VIRIN: 200406-Z-IB607-1018
Soldiers use sewing machines to make surgical masks for patients.
Sewing Squad
Parachute riggers assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) Group Support Battalion sew surgical masks for patients at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., April 1, 2020.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Adam Armstrong
VIRIN: 200401-A-YT785-384

"We see some light at the end of the tunnel, but we're far from being out of the woods. … I urge you to follow the president of the United States' 30-day plan and [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance to help reduce the spread of the virus," the secretary said.

The CDC recently outlined guidance on face coverings, and DOD immediately put out its policy, he noted. 

"Many of our adversaries … are trying to exploit this crisis," Esper said. "So it's important that we maintain readiness by full faith and confidence in our commanders."  DOD will ensure deployed troops receive the support and resources they need to accomplish their critical national security missions, he added.

The secretary pointed out that service members have put their own health on the line to help protect their fellow Americans. 

"So you have my highest regard, my respect and my pride, and I want to thank you, for these are difficult times," Esper said. "But I'm confident we will get through this together, and we will be stronger and more resilient on the back end." 

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón “CZ” Colón-López sit on a stage.
Town Hall
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón “CZ” Colón-López hold a virtual global town hall at the Pentagon to answer questions from service members, family members, and Defense Department civilians and contractors about DOD's COVID-19 response, April 9, 2020.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 200409-D-BN624-0109Y

Milley said everyone in the military is making a contribution. 

"We're going to continue to defend our country," he said. "We're going to continue to provide mission assurance around the world. We're also going to continue to protect the American people from the ravages of COVID-19, and we will continue to take care of our troops and our families."

The chairman offered three pieces of advice.

"One, pay attention to the guidance that has been put out by the CDC and the president," he said. "Two, use the chain of command. We think that information that flows up and down the chain of command has been significant over the last several weeks, but we encourage you to continue to use that. And third is take care of each other. If you see … someone that is challenged with COVID-19, please speak up, help them out and get them to the right medical facility."

Colón-López also outlined his priorities.

First, he said, is to continue to arm personnel with the facts and what they need to do to get past this pandemic. Second, he pledged continued effort to "cover our blind spots — the things that we haven't considered yet," noting that feedback from the field will help the force get to the root causes of problems and generate solutions. 

Two Navy medical technicians in personal protective equipment handle vials in a laboratory.
Blood Samples
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Cecil Dorse, left, and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Janet Rosas test blood samples aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort while the ship is in New York City in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response, April 6, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sara Eshleman
VIRIN: 200406-N-EV253-1012

"As we continue to navigate through this minefield, I want to make sure that you all know that we appreciate your candor, your expedient feedback, but most importantly, your support to one another," Colón-López said.

"We're here to learn from you and others to tailor our guidance to best care for you and your families," the SEAC emphasized. "And I will tell you that both the secretary and the chairman have both been really receptive to the feedback from you. So help us continue making it better for everyone."

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