Pvt. Caleb Rice, left, and Spc. Crystal Gonzalez, both assigned to the 44th Medical Brigade, conduct COVID-19 swab tests in the mobile testing center at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center alternate care facility in New York City, May 29. Military medical providers assigned to the hospital collaborated as an integrated system in support of New York City medical system, as part of the Defense Department’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

Photo by Air Force Senior Airman Xavier Navarro

Senior leaders discuss lessons learned from COVID-19 pandemic, response

The Army is considering ad-justments to its fiscal year 2022 budget request, as senior leaders look to invest in the service’s abil-ity to fight against infectious dis-eases or other chemical, biologi-cal, radiological, nuclear and ex-plosive threats.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 across the globe has spurred many internal discussions concerning the Army’s future operating budg-et, said Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy July 16 during the NatSec 2020: Coronavirus and Beyond webinar.
“Over the course of most of our careers, we have seen swine flu, Zika and Ebola,” McCarthy said. “In many cases, they were isolated in certain areas of the world. Nothing has had the conta-gion and the proliferation like we have seen with COVID-19 since the Spanish flu of 1918.”
Other leaders joined McCarthy during the online event to discuss lessons learned from the ongoing outbreak.
While McCarthy didn’t go into detail, the Army is looking into the “types of investments” neces-sary to support future operations during a CBRNE event. As the Army’s role in supporting the Na-tional Defense Strategy continues to remain the same, the impact of COVID-19 could justify the need for a larger Army end strength, he added.
Since March, the Army has been on the front lines of the pan-demic with more than 50,000 Sol-diers deployed around the country in response to it, McCarthy said. At the same time, more than 178,000 personnel have been de-ployed overseas, as the Army con-tinued to deter near-peer threats while also maintaining combat operations throughout the Middle East.
“Too much is asked of this in-stitution not to be able to push for more funding, so that they can continue to perform the way they do so well,” McCarthy said.
The Army has also played a vital role in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine under the pur-view of Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Opera-tion Warp Speed. The team looks to have a vaccine out before Jan. 1.
“We are blessed to have some of the finest scientists in the world getting after the COVID-19 vi-rus,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. “The Army Medical Research and De-velopment Command … (is) on the forefront, working with civil-ian and other government partners (to develop a) vaccine. They have also been involved in the clinical trials as they try to find a thera-peutic medicine that can help treat those infected.”

Through the COVID-19 envi-ronment, Soldiers learned to adjust quickly, as leaders established new standard operating procedures to adhere to public health and social distancing protocols, McCarthy said.
“COVID-19 has impacted eve-rything we do,” McConville said. “But we still have to protect the nation. We are continuing to train (and) bring in new Soldiers.”
The Army has also recently conducted a rotation at its Joint Readiness Training Center, the first at a combat training center since pausing all collective train-ing in March.
“You have to respect COVID-19,” McConville added. “But we can't telecommute to combat. We have to train and make sure our Soldiers are ready. Our Soldiers are doing a great job of operating in this environment.”
Modernization push
The Army continues to make remarkable progress toward its modernization priorities despite some minor setbacks brought on by the virus, McCarthy said.
“The defense industry has real-ly stepped forward in getting the confidence behind their workforce to fight their way through the COVID pandemic,” McCarthy said.
They have made “investment and management decisions to en-sure that their employees take care of themselves,” he said.
At the same time, both senior leaders are fighting to maintain the Army’s fiscal 2021 budget and beyond to fulfill its goal of field-ing 31 signature modernization systems by 2030.
“The fiscal year ‘21 budget is about through the House Armed Services Committee,” McCarthy said. “Both the Senate and the House authorizers are concluding with our marks. The Army’s mod-ernization effort, in particular, is faring very well.”
The budget is slated to go to the House and Senate appropriations committees in July. Receiving an approved budget for fiscal ‘21 and ‘22 will be critical to the Army’s way ahead, he noted.
“We have been very consistent with industry, and we have noticed an exponential uptick in invest-ment in (research and develop-ment) by defense manufacturers that are pursuing products with the Army,” he said. “We know that if we can get four to five budgets in a row with tremen-dous consistency, the systems will start to land. They will have irreversible momentum to get us through these difficult times.”

By Devon Suits
Army News Service