Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Military medicine confronts an invisible enemy

Image of Medical personnel set up in an outside military tent. Click to open a larger version of the image. Military and civilian healthcare personnel run the drive-thru testing center at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as patients come to the site for scheduled evaluations and nasal swabbing. (U.S. Army courtesy photo.)

Recommended Content:

Combat Support | Warrior Care | Public Health | Coronavirus | Coronavirus

In recent decades, combat on the front lines for the American military has meant overseas deployments, missions with sophisticated weaponry, and deaths — mostly in lands a world away.

In 2020, a new enemy emerged, one hiding in the air we breathe. Just as deadly, it knows no borders, is silent, invisible.

This new battlefield includes intensive care units, labs, makeshift testing centers, and warehouses for masks, syringes, and thermometers. In this match, there is no specific theater of operations for the Military Health System.

“COVID-19 has been just this ever-evolving enemy that we’re fighting, and that’s a fight where we’ve shown great resilience,” said Raven Connell, a nurse with Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. “We continue to adapt and overcome all these obstacles that we’ve faced. We’ve had to completely revamp the way that we see and care for patients, and that’s no small feat in medicine.”

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Clifton Wilcox, public health emergency officer for Navy Region Southeast and Naval Hospital Jacksonville in Florida agrees. In April, as COVID increasingly affected his part of the world, Wilcox was working seven days a week and juggling three phones.

Then he was asked to join a small team of specialists to fly aboard the USS Kidd, a destroyer working off the coast of El Salvador with a third of its crew infected with the deadly virus. This was in the immediate wake of the highly publicized outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

“The virus caused the Kidd to return to port,” said Wilcox, who flew aboard the floating hot spot within a day of being notified. “So, it had effects not just on hospitals back in [the continental United States], but it affected our ability to remain operationally deployed. We had to race back to San Diego before things got out of control.”

The collective response to the pandemic underscored the MHS reputation for innovation, with practical applications beyond military medicine.

Image of Ms. Connell in hospital dress, wearing a mask
Army civilian Raven Connell is a registered nurse who was a member of the initial team that established Blanchfield Army Community Hospital’s COVID-19 Clinic earlier this year. (U.S. Army photo by Maria Yager)

Being nimble in the face of calamity “continues a long history of military medicine,” said Army Sgt. Major Esteban Alvarado, a senior enlisted leader at the Defense Health Agency. “The next year will continue to present challenges, and things will be a little different than we are used to. I have no doubt that the MHS team will continue to innovate, adapt and overcome in order to meet the mission.”

Wilcox barely had enough time to quarantine from the Kidd before being selected for special deployment to the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier in the Pacific that was looking to avoid the kind of trouble the Roosevelt experienced. His team included an internist, a critical care nurse, a respiratory therapist, an environmental health officer, and a microbiologist.

“Once the virus was onboard, we had to innovate in a way to re-establish the bubble on a ship without just going into port like the Teddy Roosevelt did,” he said. “We found a way to test the entire crew, twice.”

Wilcox and his teammates worked for 20 days at sea to bring the USS Ronald Reagan around.

“It was very challenging,” he said.

Re-invention of daily care at Ft. Campbell meant creating an outdoor and drive-through COVID clinic, with testing and triage, one that will be operating for the foreseeable future. But the usual MHS priority of military readiness did not take a back seat.

“When COVID hit, we’ve got two primary missions,” recalled Connell, who previously served as an active duty Army nurse. “Once we started getting that solid foundation for testing, evaluating, and treating patients with COVID, we had to formulate a plan to be able to still get active duty [troops] back in training. It was a large collaborative effort for Ft. Campbell to find out how we were going to get those missions to function simultaneously.”

This battle in 2020 was also unique in the way in which America’s men and women in uniform — active duty, Reserve and National Guard — worked in tandem with civilian colleagues in fighting a common enemy. The uniform was often simply a gown and tended to be powder blue or white. In lieu of helmets, COVID-19 fighters donned goggles, medical gloves, surgical masks, and N95 respirators.

For MHS professionals at all levels, working from home has rarely been an option. And while the recent news of vaccines that have proven effective in trials has been welcome, it won’t affect the short-term daily mission. “Business as usual” is a moving target.

“I have never been prouder to be a MHS professional in a collectively dynamic and inspiring team,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christina Pyeatt, an independent duty medic with the 90th Ground Combat Training Squadron at Camp Guernsey, Wyoming.

“Our Reserve and National Guard brethren have deployed to assist us with our operations as well as to other hard-hit states across the country.”

A collective effort sounds right to Raven Connell.

“In both civilian and military medicine, I think we’re all trying to figure out what that’s going to look like, because it’s becoming very apparent that [COVID-19 is] not really going anywhere anytime soon,” she said. “So, we’re trying to figure out what the new norm is going to be, and that’s a huge undertaking.”

You also may be interested in...

Warrior Care Month Recognition

Policy

In this memorandum, Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter recognizes November as Warrior Care Month, an important DoD-wide effort to increase awareness of programs and resources available to wounded, ill, and injured Service members, as well as their families, caregivers and others to support them.

  • Identification #: N/A
  • Date: 11/14/2016
  • Type: Memorandums
  • Topics: Warrior Care

Embedded Fragment Analyses

Policy

Clarification of the Requirement for Continuation of Semi-Annual Reporting of Results of Embedded Fragment Analyses

DoDM 1332.18, Volume 3: Disability Evaluation System (DES) Manual: Quality Assurance Program (QAP)

Policy

This manual is composed of several volumes, each containing its own purpose. This volume assigns responsibilities and procedures for the DES QAP pursuant to section 524 of Public Law 112-239 (Reference (c)).

  • Identification #: DoDM 1332.18, Volume 3
  • Date: 11/21/2014
  • Type: Manual
  • Topics: Warrior Care

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction: Post-Deployment Policy for 21-day Controlled Monitoring

Policy

This instruction provides policy and guidance for the Services in the conduct of 21-day controlled monitoring of Service members and volunteering DoD civilian employees returning from the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak area in West Africa.

Pre-Deployment, Deployment, and Post-Deployment Training, Screening, and Monitoring Guidance for Department of Defense Personnel Deployed to Ebola Outbreak Areas

Policy

Department of Defense (DoD) personnel (Service members and civilian employees)deployed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined Ebola outbreak areas will complete pre and post-deployment screening and training requirements outlined in this memorandum and supplemented by United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) guidance.

Detecting and Reporting DoD Cases of Ebola Virus Disease Infection

Policy

Guidance as of 17 OCT 2014 from the Department of Defese (AFHSC)for Detecting and Reporting DoD Cases of Ebola Virus Disease Infection

DoDM 1332.18, Volume 1: Disability Evaluation System (DES) Manual: General Information and Legacy Disability Evaluation System (LDES) Time Standards

Policy

This manual is composed of several volumes, each containing its own purpose. The purpose of the overall manual, in accordance with the authority in DoD Directive 5124.02 (Reference (a)), is to implement policy, assign responsibilities, and provide procedures for the DES pursuant to DoD Instruction (DoDI) 1332.18 (Reference (b)).

  • Identification #: DoDM 1332.18, Volume 1
  • Date: 8/5/2014
  • Type: Manual
  • Topics: Warrior Care

DoDM 1332.18, Volume 2: Disability Evaluation System (DES) Manual: Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES)

Policy

This manual is composed of several volumes, each containing its own purpose. The purpose of the overall manual, in accordance with the authority in DoD Directive 5136.01 (Reference (a)), is to implement policy, assign responsibilities, and provide procedures for the DES pursuant to DoD Instruction (DoDI) 1332.18 (Reference (b)).

  • Identification #: DoDM 1332.18, Volume 2
  • Date: 8/5/2014
  • Type: Manual
  • Topics: Warrior Care

DoDI 1332.18: Disability Evaluation System (DES)

Policy

This instruction establishes policy, assigns responsibilities, and provides procedures for referral, evaluation, return to duty, separation, or retirement of Service members for disability

  • Identification #: DoDI 1332.18
  • Date: 8/5/2014
  • Type: Instructions
  • Topics: Warrior Care

Influenza Surveillance Program

Policy

Sentinel Sites for the 2014-2015 Influenza Surveillance Program

Deployment Limiting Mental Disorders and Psychotrophic Medications

Policy

Policy memorandum about Deployment Limiting Mental Disorders and Psychotrophic Medications

DoD Instruction 6025.20: Medical Management (MM) Programs in the Direct Care System (DCS) and Remote Areas

Policy

Establishes policy, assigns responsibilities, and prescribes uniform guidelines, procedures, and standards for the implementation of clinical case management (CM) in the Military Health System (MHS), for TRICARE beneficiaries including care of the wounded, ill, and injured (WII) in accordance with the authority in Reference (b) and DoDI 1300.24 (Reference (f)).

  • Identification #: DoD Instruction 6025.20
  • Date: 10/2/2013
  • Type: Instructions
  • Topics: Warrior Care

Access to Medical Services Who were Exposed to Rabies in Combat Theater

Policy

U.S. Navy/U.S. Marine Corps COSC Policy Update

Policy

Mental Health Assessments for Members of the Armed Forces Deployed in Connection with a Contingency Operation

Policy
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 of 3

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.