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US Marines, NYPD officers unite to fight COVID-19

Lance Cpl. Stephen Ruiz, a rifleman with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Task Force New York, screens a vehicle while police officers with the Critical Response Command in the Counterterrorism Bureau of the New York City Police Department stand security for the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) in New York City, April 23, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Stormy Mendez)
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, New York City took a hard hit. In need of relief, the city turned to the United States military for support.

Marines with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division arrived March 30 in New York to support the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort in Manhattan.

Police officer John Etienne, a dog handler with the Critical Response Command K-9 in the Counterterrorism Bureau of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), and his dog, Randy, screen a vehicle for potential treats in New York City, April 23, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Stormy Mendez)

The Marines worked diligently to provide security for Comfort, which originally deployed to New York City to treat non-COVID-19 patients, but had to adjust to treat COVID-19 patients as more help was requested. With the added pressure of protecting COVID-19 patients while keeping the ship functioning, Lima Company partnered with the New York Police Department to deliver a joint relief effort.

“Everyone is contributing in different ways,” said Marine Corps Cpl. Jose Palacios, a team leader with Lima Company. “The Navy is on ship doing the medical aspect, and the police force and Marines are providing security for the ship. So, all of us are working in conjunction with each other to provide different jobs, and it is helping things run more effectively.”

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2nd Lt. Jake Vanarkel, a rifle platoon commander with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Task Force New York observes police officer John Etienne, a dog handler with the Critical Response Command K-9 in the Counterterrorism Bureau of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), and his dog, Randy, as they screen a vehicle for potential treats in New York City, April 23, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Stormy Mendez)

The Comfort’s overall security plan was divided into two interlocking lines of defense. One line involved the Marines guarding vehicle control points and screening any coming and going personnel for proper security clearances and COVID-19 symptoms. This line’s efforts were directly responsible for safeguarding the ship, personnel and patients from increased risks of COVID-19. The other line utilized NYC police officers in providing force protection for the Marines, while using armed guards and working dogs to sniff out potential explosive devices, limiting any potential threats toward the ship and the personnel aboard.

Although the Marines and NYPD take on different supporting roles, they work very closely to keep a united front.

“We’re facing a complex problem, and not one of us, whether you are a heavy weapons sergeant with the NYPD, or you are a doctor, is going to solve this on our own,” said police Sgt. Matthew Woods, a heavy weapons sergeant with the Critical Response Command in the Counterterrorism Bureau of the NYPD. “We have to break the problem into smaller pieces, and each one of us is doing their small part. We have to do this as a team to try to alleviate the problem.”

Cpl. Timothy Pennington, a rifleman with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Task Force New York, guides a vehicle while police officers with the Critical Response Command in the Counterterrorism Bureau of the New York City Police Department stand security for the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) in New York City, April 23, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Stormy Mendez)

With tensions high and spirits low among the local population, the men and women serving the Comfort understand the effect their duties have on the livelihood of NYC. Protecting the city from a global pandemic is not a small task to accomplish, but they prove day and night that they are ready to serve where needed.

“We are all here for the same mission, and that is to help as many people as possible during this pandemic,” Palacios said. “The morale and mentality is negative right now due [to] the number of deaths, but I think it is starting to look up. I think when people see us here and see the ship here, it symbolizes hope.”

While the Comfort plans its departure, the Marines of Lima Company and the NYPD continue the fight toward protecting society and civilization.

“My condolences to [those] who have lost family members, employees that they work with, a loving friend, my condolences go out to them,” said police officer John Etienne, a dog handler with the Critical Response Command K-9 in the Counterterrorism Bureau of the NYPD. “I’m hoping that we can heal from this, and we can continue because I don’t want us to dwell in the negative. We have to look towards the future.”

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This article was originally published by the US Department of Defense.