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Transcom Acts Quickly During COVID-19 Pandemic

Oct. 7, 2020 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

As COVID-19 hit the nation, for the Defense Department, U.S. Transportation Command and much of industry, there was no opportunity to stop movement, the commander of Transcom said today at the virtual National Defense Transportation Association-U.S. Transportation Command Fall meeting.

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Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons said Transcom and the joint deployment distribution enterprise had to, and did, continue to operate despite COVID-19. He said some things were scaled back, exercises were cancelled and a couple of ships were not offloaded. 

"We did all those kinds of things," the combatant commander said. "But at the end of the day, we never had to stop flying planes and sailing ships. [We] needed to appropriately mitigate those mission outcomes with the appropriate force protection." 

Transcom had to figure out very rapidly how it was going to move highly infectious patients, because when the pandemic began, Transcom did not have a highly infectious patient movement capability, he said, giving credit to the Air Mobility Command and the broader Air Force. 

A general officer autographs a hard hat during a visit.
Lyons Signature
Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, the U.S. Transportation Command commander, signs a hard hat at the 436th Maintenance Squadron Isochronal Inspection Dock, Oct. 3, 2018, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. In addition to the ISO dock, Lyons toured the 436th Maintenance Squadron Aerial Port and Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Zoe M. Wockenfuss
VIRIN: 181003-F-OK627-1023

"The first thing they did was dust off the transportation isolation system from the Ebola outbreak. But the Department of the Air Force was able to fill a joint urgent requirement in less than 90 days from the time I started the requirements process … [to] effectively move 300 COVID-19-positive patients across the globe," Lyons said.

He said he is very grateful for that effort, and, when Transcom needed to figure out when it was moving troops and passengers, it had to have a way to do it that was safe. So, Transcom triaged passengers loading on passenger planes, for example.

"The challenges are very encouraging on commercial aircraft, with HEPA filtration and a very high air exchange rate of every two to five minutes …," he said.

Soldiers fire a 17-volley salute.
Cannon Salute
U.S. Army soldiers from the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., fire a 17-volley cannon salute to honor the outgoing commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Darren W. McDew, during the U.S. Transportation Command change of command ceremony, Aug. 24, 2018, at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. McDew relinquished command to U.S. Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Paul Villanueva II
VIRIN: 180824-F-NJ944-1150C

In addition to continuing the mission and protecting the force, the department was called upon to support the whole-of-government effort, Lyons noted. Even now, Transcom stands ready if called to support Operation Warp Speed. 

"It's not clear how we're going to get to the end of this with the number of planes that are still parked with the amount of debt that's occurring in the passenger airline industry, specifically," he said, adding that Transcom is watching and working closely with industry. 

One of the things that was in the unknown of unknowns that became very clear is DOD had to significantly ramp up its level of collaboration and coordination with its industry partners, to make sure the DOD understood what they were seeing and what they were enduring, Lyons said.

A general officer conducts an official visit.
Group Meeting
Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, left, commander, U.S. Transportation Command, walks with Vice Adm. Jim Malloy, center, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, Combined Maritime Forces, and Navy Capt. Peter Mirisola, right, commander, Task Force 55, Coalition Task Force Sentinel, to the International Maritime Security Construct during Lyons’ visit to NAVCENT Nov. 15, 2019. Operation Sentinel is a multinational maritime effort to promote maritime stability, ensure safe passage, and enhance freedom of navigation throughout key waterways in the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Oman.
Photo By: Navy Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton
VIRIN: 191115-N-KC128-029C

The main goal, he added, was to ensure that Transcom understood viability to support the DOD in a crisis, and to ensure it understood how we could assist them to make sure that they maintain their viability. 

That resulted in a weekly drumbeat very early on — in that the crisis continues to this day in each of the mode sectors, he said.

"It just underscores for me how important NDTA and this level of collaboration is within history," Lyons said. "And when a crisis strikes, that's not the time to be building a relationship. You can't surge trust in a crisis. It underscores how important it is to maintain this level of collaboration and transparency as we continue to work through this challenge. … It's going to take years, though, in some sectors to recover fully from what we're seeing today."