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...

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 7 - July 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Skin and soft tissue infections, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2013–2016; Age-period-cohort analysis of colorectal cancer, service members aged 20–59 years, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 1997–2016; Incidence of gastrointestinal infections among U.S. active component service members stationed in the U.S. compared to U.S civilians, 2012–2014; Brief report: Laboratory characterization of noroviruses identified in specimens from Military Health System beneficiaries during an outbreak in Germany, 2016–2017; Surveillance snapshot: Norovirus outbreaks among military forces, 2008–2016.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 1 - January 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Malaria, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016; Diabetes mellitus, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2008–2015 introduction of the virus in the Western Hemisphere, 1 January 2016; Rates of Chlamydia trachomatis infections across the deployment cycle, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2008–2015; Brief report: Selected demographic and service characteristics of the U.S. Armed Forces, active and reserve components, 2001, 2009, and 2016.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 10 - October 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella among service members and other beneficiaries of the Military Health System, 2010-2016; Update: Cold weather injuries, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2012-June 2017; Surveillance snapshot: Influenza vaccine effectiveness, U.S. European Command, as estimated by the Department of Defense Global, Laboratory-Based Influenza Surveillance Program, 2016-2017 influenza season; Surveillance snapshot: Influenza immunization among U.S. Armed Forces healthcare workers, August 2012-April 2017

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 11 - November 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Pregnancies and live births, active component service women, U.S. Armed Forces, 2012–2016; Contraception among active component service women, U.S. Armed Forces, 2012–2016; Complications and care related to pregnancy, labor, and delivery among active component service women, U.S. Armed Forces, 2012–2016; Incidence and burden of gynecologic disorders, active component service women, U.S. Armed Forces, 2012–2016; Department of Defense Birth and Infant Health Registry: select reproductive health outcomes, 2003–2014

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 2 - February 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Incident diagnoses of leishmaniasis, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, 2001–2016; Incidence rates of malignant melanoma in relation to years of military service, overall and in selected military occupational groups, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2001–2015; Medical evacuations, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, 2013–2015.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 3 - March 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Diagnoses of traumatic brain injury not clearly associated with deployment, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2001–2016; Update: Heat illness, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016; Update: Exertional rhabdomyolysis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2012–2016; Update: Exertional hyponatremia, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2001–2016.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 9 - September 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Review of the U.S. military's human immunodeficiency virus program: a legacy of progress and a future of promise; Update: Routine screening for antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus, civilian applicants for U.S. military service and U.S. Armed Forces, active and reserve components, January 2012–June 2017; Sexually transmitted infections, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007–2016; Brief report: Use of ICD-10 code A51.31 (condyloma latum) for identifying cases of secondary syphilis

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 8 - August 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Multiple sclerosis among service members of the active and reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces and among other beneficiaries of the Military Health System, 2007–2016; Challenges with diagnosing and investigating suspected active tuberculosis disease in military trainees; Brief report: Mid-season influenza vaccine effectiveness estimates for the 2016–2017 influenza season

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 4 - April 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016; Hospitalizations, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016; Ambulatory visits, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, reserve component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, recruit trainees, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016; Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, non-service member beneficiaries of the Military Health System, 2016.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 24 No. 5 - May 2017

Report
1/1/2017

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Viral hepatitis A, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007–2016; Viral hepatitis B, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007–2016; Viral hepatitis C, U.S. military service members and beneficiaries, 2008–2016; Brief report: Tinea pedis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2000–2016; and Surveillance snapshot: Respiratory infections resulting in hospitalization, U.S. Air Force recruits, October 2010–February 2017.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

Study Finds Strong Immune Response to HPV Vaccine Among Female Service Members

Report
5/11/2016

A new study of female service members that examined their immune response to a vaccine to combat the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer showed development of antibodies in 80 to 99 percent of recipients against each of the four strains of the disease.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Public Health | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

MSMR Vol. 23 No. 5 - May 2016

Report
1/1/2016

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Post-refractive surgery complications and eye disease, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2005–2014; Update: Urinary stones, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2011–2015; Surveillance snapshot: Zika virus infection among Military Health System beneficiaries following introduction of the virus into the Western Hemisphere, 20 May 2016; Surveillance snapshot: Department of Defense Global, Laboratory-Based Influenza Surveillance Program, 2014–2015 season.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 23 No. 6 - June 2016

Report
1/1/2016

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Identification of specific activities associated with fall-related injuries, active component, U.S. Army, 2011; Incidence and recent trends in functional gastrointestinal disorders, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2005–2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 23 No. 7 - July 2016

Report
1/1/2016

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Increasing severity of traumatic brain injury is associated with an increased risk of subsequent headache or migraine: a retrospective cohort study of U.S. active duty service members, 2006–2015; Use of complementary health approaches at military treatment facilities, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2010–2015; Incident diagnoses of cancers in the active component and cancer-related deaths in the active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, 2005–2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 23 No. 1 - January 2016

Report
1/1/2016

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Malaria, U.S. Armed Forces, 2015; Durations of service until first and recurrent episodes of clinically significant back pain, active component military members: changes among new accessions to service since calendar year 2000; Surveillance snapshot: Responses to questions about back pain in post-deployment health assessment questionnaires, U.S. Armed Forces, 2005-2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 61 - 75 Page 5 of 20

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.