Defense Secretary Mark Esper: In coronavirus fight, US military is on the front lines

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The United States is facing one of the greatest challenges of our time as we fight to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. As thousands of American service members continue to stand watch around the world in defense of our great nation, the U.S. military is also helping to combat the invisible enemy now within our borders.

As part of President Trump’s aggressive whole-of-government response, the Department of Defense (DoD) is surging people, capabilities, researchers and equipment to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the American people. Like other fights, against other enemies, in other times, we will win.

The DoD has been at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus since the early days of our nation’s response effort. In January, we provided housing at March Air Reserve Base in California to assist the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in caring for hundreds of State Department employees, dependents and U.S. citizens who were evacuated from Wuhan, China. Our contributions and efforts to the interagency’s response has only grown since then, as we simultaneously took major steps to ensure the safety of our military personnel and their families.

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Last week, I directed the release of critical supplies from DoD's strategic medical reserves to assist the civilian doctors, nurses and technicians who are on the front lines of this fight. One million N-95 respirator masks and 2,000 deployable ventilators are being provided to HHS for distribution across the country to hospitals where they are needed most. An additional 4 million masks and other protective equipment from these reserves will be distributed to medical facilities in the coming days and weeks, as needed.

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Meanwhile, our world-class doctors and scientists are at the forefront of infectious disease research, working alongside other government and private sector efforts to accelerate a vaccine and therapeutics for this virus. These are the same medical researchers whose contributions were critical to the development of vaccines for the Ebola and Zika viruses.

Additionally, we will soon deploy our Navy’s two hospital ships, the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy, to key locations on the East and West Coasts of the United States. These ships, and their exceptional crews of medical professionals, are optimized for trauma support and will supplement non-COVID-19 medical care, thereby freeing up hospital beds for those most affected by the virus. Concurrently, we have alerted a number of military field hospitals and expeditionary medical units to be prepared to deploy around the country to increase the nation’s medical capacity.

The men and women of the Armed Forces are highly trained and well prepared to operate in times of crisis. As we continue to support the president’s bold response efforts, we will use all of the tools at our disposal to help protect the nation. 

In the meantime, I continue to speak with governors to offer the DoD’s continued assistance with planning, logistics and medical support to their states. Over 7,000 National Guard members are currently mobilized in all 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia working in support of state and local authorities, with many more on track to be mobilized in the coming days.

Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers is on the ground in New York and elsewhere, beginning critical work to retrofit existing buildings to provide additional hospital beds and intensive care facilities in the most severely impacted regions of our country. The Corps remains in close coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency as it expands this support to other areas.

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The men and women of the Armed Forces are highly trained and well prepared to operate in times of crisis. As we continue to support the president’s bold response efforts, we will use all of the tools at our disposal to help protect the nation.

The United States military has proven throughout our history that we are at our best when the stakes are high. I am proud of our service members and DoD civilians who are answering the call, all around our great country. I can assure the American people that we will do whatever it takes to defeat this virus, return to our normal way of life and to come back even stronger. Together, we will get through this.

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