The purpose of this edition of All Things Soldier is not meant to be political, but I suppose that is unavoidable. And, while I wish I could avoid the “COVID-as-a-constant” theme, if you can see the long-term application for what could be crises in the future, you won’t be sucked into any combination of “bait-and-switch” and “apples-and-oranges” when it comes to the possible role of the military in conquering Corona in America.
Recently, two men running for president discussed during a debate what they would do if they were at the helm of the good ship POTUS during the current pandemic. In the face of the National Guard being federalized in all 50 states and therefore directly under the Commander-in-Chief, along with being actively deployed in the State of New York, on the surface one could be tempted to think that an immediate wholesale domestic deployment of military medical personnel would be prudent in order to stem the tide of the outbreak. It is not that simple, and below are the reasons why.
The first is that the major field application of emergency military medicine is combat and trauma related, or in response to natural disasters. The acronym CASH stands for Combat Area Service Hospital, and has nothing to do with money, but has everything to do with getting a wounded warrior into the tent, patched up, and then evacuated if need be. There is no doubt that the Army Corps of Engineers could construct a 500-bed hospital in record time and do a bang up job while they are at it, but it would not meet the immediate need. The biggest reason is staffing. Any time you pull civilians out of their civilian jobs, medical or not, you create a measure of instability by the holes that are left in homes, businesses, and the culture. And God forbid, while it may become necessary to deploy the Guard as needed to maintain order, distribute food and supplies, as well as utilize the skills of military medical personnel, “calling up the docs” is not the first order of business, at least not today.
The second reason is equipment. A CASH-style tent facility, or even a hard-sided building, would demand what in military medicine is known as “heavy equipment,” meaning things like ventilators. The service branches simply do not have warehouses full of ventilators waiting to be utilized in a situation like this. So far, the best use of the military has been to use bases to house groups like people from a cruise ship while they are in the “wait and see” period after possibly being exposed.
As of Wednesday, President Trump called for the deployment of United States Naval Ship Comfort to New York in response to a letter written by three members of Congress from New York State asking him to do so. On the West Coast, the other USNS hospital ship, Mercy will be used should it become necessary. For now, it seems that the best role of military medical personnel is to support Health and Human Services, rather than get put in a position to compete with them.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner