The U.S. military deployed about 24,000 troops to help state and local governments across the country fight COVID-19. To mission is over, at least for now. The Ministry of Defense is preparing for the next possible spread of infectious diseases. And officials are seeking to learn from the experience of service members who participated in the COVID-19 mission.
Experience can help military leaders decide the number and type of troops to deploy in the event of another pandemic or other world crises or conflicts, General Glen VanHerck said. He heads the U.S. Northern Command and is responsible for the defense of the homeland.
VanHerck told The Associated Press that his command rewrites the military’s current pandemic and infectious disease plans. Officials are also planning war game drills to test the abilities of U.S. military medics.
Of the 24,000 U.S. troops deployed, nearly 6,000 were sent medical staff to help in hospitals. About 5,000 soldiers helped provide vaccinations.
VanHerck noted that the ways in which military forces were used in the pandemic “transformed“over time. He said one of the most important things the military learned was that working in small teams proved to be more valuable than mass movements of troops and facilities.
In the early days of the pandemic, the Department of Defense sent hospital ships to New York City and Los Angeles. They also established hospital operations in other states at the request of heads of state. The idea was to use the troops to treat non-COVID-19 patients so that hospitals could concentrate on more serious pandemic cases.
But while pictures of the military ships were strong, many beds went unused. Fewer patients needed non-COVID-19 care than expected, and hospitals were still overloaded by the pandemic. This led to changes in how military forces were deployed. Troops were sent to hospitals to fill overloaded staff or to work with them in additional treatment areas.
Lieutenant Colonel Suzanne Cobleigh led an army team that was deployed to two hospitals in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from December to February. She spoke to Associated Press reporters about a patient the team was helping at a Michigan hospital when the Omicron version of COVID-19 quickly spread.
The COVID-19 patient had severe breathing difficulties, but Cobleigh said all patient beds in the hospital were full.
An Army nurse on her team knew of an open space in a temporary treatment area. The nurse quickly went into action and hurried to get the patient wheeled to the area. During the process, the stretcher hit a wall and slightly damaged it.
When she saw what was happening, Cobleigh praised the nurse’s drive to help her patient.
“She’s going to damage the wall on the way there because he wants that bed,” Cobleigh said. “(The patient) will get the treatment he needs. That was the mission.”
The last military medical team deployed to the pandemic completed its mission last week at the University of Utah hospital. But officials say about 200 troops are being held on orders prepared to deploy until the end of May if COVID-19 infections rise again.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report to VOA Learning English.
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Words in this story
mission – n. an important job that usually involves traveling to somewhere
morph – n. to switch from one thing to another over time
plant – n. a place, especially in buildings, where a particular activity takes place