MDW commanding general talks COVID-19, military mission

On March 16, Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the commander of Northern Command, activated the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region as a joint task force to provide the resources and authorities the force will need for the current COVID-19 health crisis. Maj. Gen. Omar Jones, commander of the JTF-NCR, said as a standing Joint Force Headquarters we can “coordinate, communicate (and) plan all the time.” As a JTF, we can now “receive joint forces and direct join action if directed.”

As the commanding general for the JTF, Jones has the mission of conducting homeland defense and supporting the partners in the NCR. As the CG of MDW, he is the Army commander responsible to the Army chief of staff for Army forces in the NCR. He said in both cases, both organizations are able to continue its mission while still implementing public health guidelines.

As the Army and the nation faces the COVID-19 health crisis, Jones stressed the importance of following the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and public health guidelines, which includes the hand washing, using hand sanitizers and social distancing. Jones pointed out that his No. 1 priority is protecting the force, and that includes service members, civilians, Family members and the surrounding communities.

“My hope is everybody is practicing social distancing and all of the other public health measures that are recommended by the CDC and that have been communicated by the Department of Defense,” explained Jones. “To beat this virus, it’s going to take all of us — it’s going to take everybody involved to make sure we are stopping the spread and taking appropriate precautions.”

Jones pointed out that if individuals have symptoms they need to follow the appropriate precautions whether it is quarantining themselves in accordance with medical guidance.

“So, that’s the first and foremost piece with social distancing,” he said. “It’s … our obligation to the community to make sure we are doing that and following the public health guidance.”

Jones, as well as other senior leaders, are doing their part to ensure mitigation is being done to keep COVID-19 from spreading in the communities. Through technology, the workforce can telework and that ensures there is minimum, if any, interruption to the mission. The CG said the technology that is available is incredible because it allows Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians to do the important work that has to be done in the NCR, and more broadly, across the DOD and therefore, across the world.

“We have to be able to execute our missions to be able to support our partners,” he said. “We (have) to be able to protect our force. Protecting our force goes back to social distancing and all of the other appropriate public health measures.”

Although technology allows the workforce to continue the mission, Jones said social distancing is having some impact on the military because the military is a people business. However, the mission is being completed successfully because the military is using various means to communicate to others.

“Social distancing has had an impact but technology allowed us to continue to do our mission right,” Jones said. “It’s caused us to make sure our communication is very clear. (To make sure) we are listening as much as we are talking. We are staying engaged with our people as frequently and as in-depth as we can to make sure we continue to do the mission.

“We can do both, but we have to acknowledge that the technology does have some shortfalls and (as) leaders we have to overcome those in terms of how we stay engaged.”

“The majority of our workforce is telecommuting but we’ve got less than a third (who) … come to work each day,” he said. “We are making sure they are appropriately distanced at all times, and then even within that reaming third, we have groups of approximately 10 that are insular. Those 10 people don’t interact face to face with anybody else. That way we can prevent, or at least mitigate, potential spread while maintaining the functionality of this headquarters.

“We are doing all of those things … we are having video teleconferencing and phone calls. I had a meeting about an hour ago by Facetime. All of those things … keep interacting with very small groups so if we do have anyone who is not feeling well, we can mitigate and minimize the risk of spread.”

Jones added that individuals have an obligation to make sure they are doing everything to help the broader community.

“It’s going to take all of us to beat this virus, and we all have to be involved and do our part,” he said.

At midnight Saturday, Jones raised the health protection condition to Charlie minus and declared a public health emergency on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Fort Meade, Maryland. The emergency declaration provides garrison commanders additional authorities, so they can continue to take care of the populations on those installations, explained Jones. It also makes sure there is support to medical treatment, commissary, tailoring hours to child development centers or those types of organizations have what’s needed to continue to support the mission and protect the community.

While practicing CDC and public health guidelines are vital to decrease transmission of COVID-19, making sure Families are prepared is another. In terms of physical preparedness, Jones said there are some great guidelines that Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided about what a Family needs to have in the home. He pointed out that MDW is committed to maintaining the commissary to make sure it has the items needed for the population to take care of themselves and their Families.

As the communities follow guidelines against COVID-19, Jones would like individuals to follow public health guidelines that are available from the CDC and the DOD, so they are doing their part of in taking care of themselves, their Families, the DOD and the country.

“For the military community here in the National Capital Region, the leaders are here to answer your questions,” said Jones. “The leaders are here to make sure our communities (and) our installations remain safe, secure and healthy. Most broadly, the mission of JTF-NCR in our area and the missions of the Department of Defense remains unchanged. Our job is to provide the nation’s defense, to support operations around the world, and that’s what we are going to continue to do.”

For more information about the CDC and public health guidelines, please visit www.cdc.gov. For more information about what FEMA suggests is required for preparedness, visit www.fema.gov.

By Catrina Francis

Pentagram Editor

Pentagram Editor Catrina Francis can be reached at catrina.s.francis2.civ@mail.mil.