Part of its COVID-19 Military Support Initiative, The Association of Defense Communities, Blue Star Families, and participants from the White Oak Collaborative hosted a national virtual town hall on Thursday to better understand the current coronavirus pandemic.
Speakers included CNN Anchor Brianna Keilar, Politico Editor Bryan Bender, Senior Advisor of The Center for Strategic Studies Mark Cancian, and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution Michael O’Hanlon.
Bryan Bender described the Department of Defense’s response, similar to the federal government’s, as one evolving by the day. “Going forward there is no doubt the military’s organizational and logistical role will increase,” said Bender. Particularly he noted the Pentagon’s recent aid in providing HHS with respiratory masks, sending its hospital ships to Seattle and New York, as well as providing COVID-19 test swabs from Italy.
Bender pointed to the U.S. military’s response to coronavirus in South Korea as an interesting case study of how to aggressively combat the virus, especially as the U.S. armed forces have over 20,000 servicemembers and dependents in the region. One explanation is that South Korean officials began briskly tracking and testing for COVID-19 once it was identified in the country.
The topic of quality of life for military families was discussed by Brianna Keilar. She said that this group is one that already encounters isolation due to prolonged deployments, but noted a bright side of cancelled trainings could mean more support at home. Keilar also said that many military families are “stuck in limbo” due to delayed PCS moves, especially if a family’s personal affects have already been shipped.
“When I wake up in the morning it feels like I have whiplash, seeing the number of new cases. Accept the fact that you are overwhelmed with information,” said Keiler. While disinformation has been a significant added risk during the pandemic, she said that main news outlets, as well as the CDC, are good resources to learn how to protect oneself from the virus.
In the final part of the town hall, Mark Cancian and Michael O’Hanlon described how military readiness could be affected by the spread of coronavirus. “We’re already seeing some degradation in readiness as deployments and trainings of being cancelled,” said Cancian. He said an added risk to readiness is if boot camps start to be cancelled, which could affect service retention and growth.
While the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions are at a high risk of being exposed to COVID-19, Michael O’Hanlon says a cure is not necessary to keep U.S. forces strong, “No adversary should think that the U.S. cannot deploy during a crisis,” said O’Hanlon, “If there were really a conflict, many of the restrictions would be delayed. We would do our best for our servicemembers, but there isn’t a window of vulnerability, and we shouldn’t let our adversaries think there is one.”
Both O’Hanlon and Cancian agreed that while many military skills could benefit from virtual training, there are certain things cannot be done remote (e.g. boot camp training, practicing artillery, and flight training). “Virtual is the second best option,” said Cancian.
Listen to the entire virtual town hall meeting here on the Association of Defense Communities’ Knowledge Online for Defense Communities.
The next COVID-19 virtual town hall, which will focus on education, will be held on Tuesday, March 24. Please visit ADC’s COVID-19 Military Support Initiative website for more information.