Alliance between Eighth Army, ROK, stretches to COVID-19 fight

Eighth Army deputy commanding general for operations, Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, and Pyeongtaek City mayor Jung Jang-seon, tap elbows to greet each other at the Humphreys Exchange, April 9. The mayor also visited the Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital tertiary tent, intensive care unit, testing lab and the Humphreys Commissary, to get a firsthand view of all the precautionary measures that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Jillian Hix, 20th Public Affairs Detachment)
April 28, 2020

Leaders from Eighth Army and U.S. Forces Korea are partnered with experts from South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or KCDC, to ensure the safety of their combined communities.

Eighth Army consults with the KCDC multiple times daily to establish and continue tracing of any new or current infected individuals. Military leaders from the U.S. recognized the Republic of Korea government’s success in containing the virus and made the early decision to seek their expertise.

“We’re giving and receiving information from the KCDC daily, said Dr. (Col.) Michael Cohen, Eighth Army surgeon. “The cooperation from our two organizations is key to keeping the virus outside our community.”

Cohen works closely with Dr. (Col.) Clinton Murray, USFK command surgeon and infectious disease specialist. The command is also in daily contact with the KCDC. Erica Lee, the director of the Risk Assessment and International Cooperation Division of the KCDC, talks with Murray as much as 10 times a day in efforts to establish contact tracing of infected individuals.

“Their ability to rapidly escalate their testing platforms and through-put allowed them to not just flatten the curve – but stop the curve,” Murray said. “Their goal has not been so much a mitigation strategy, it is more of a suppression strategy.”

South Korea is largely recognized as the world leader in the COVID-19 battle. The country went from more than 900 new daily infections in March, to under 20 daily infections in a little more than a month. South Koreans also have the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates compared to other countries.

In February, the U.S. military immediately implemented strict health screenings and restricted access to U.S. Army Garrison Daegu after a spike in cases. United States Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyongtaek and other garrisons across Korea quickly followed. The measures have been largely successful. Among USFK’s roughly 58,000 troops, contractors and civilians, there have been 26 COVID-19 cases and zero deaths.

Earlier this month, Humphreys leadership led Pyeongtaek mayor Jung Jang-seon on a tour to see the protective measures the garrison has in place on the post to fight the virus. The mayor visited the Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital’s intensive care unit, testing lab and tertiary tent as well as the camp’s Exchange and Commissary. After the visit, the city of Pyeongtaek released a statement writing that the mayor “felt a strong trust with the USFK medical system.”

On Camp Humphreys, the Soldiers and civilians assigned to the 65th Medical Brigade act as the “implementation” arm of USFK, establishing quarantine facilities, obtaining testing equipment and securing other medical supplies for the U.S. military in Korea. The brigade’s commander, Col. Derek Cooper, acknowledges that he coordinates the brigade’s efforts with the KCDC as well. He credits the USFK’s low numbers to his relationship with the KCDC.

“We are getting test results back in a matter of 12 hours – it’s pretty phenomenal,” said Cooper. “By having that kind of cooperation and support emphasis; they went a long way in helping us achieve the success we’re seeing right now.”

The U.S. military is still on heightened alert across the peninsula due to COVID-19. However, they are sharing the ROK’s downward curve of new cases and remaining cautiously optimistic. The USFK command is actively taking notice of the cooperation and alliances between the ROK and the U.S. military.

“Whether there’s a fence surrounding us, or gates in between, we’re all on the same peninsula,” Cooper stressed. “We’re all in this fight together.”