JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas – U.S. Army North, as a component of U.S. Northern Command, was first called up to the COVID-19 fight back in January, when it helped evacuate American citizens from China and then others stranded on cruise ships in Japan.
Today, ARNORTH in its role as the Joint Force Land Component Command has over 9,000 personnel assisting local and state governments battling the virus, said its deputy commander, Maj. Gen. David Glaser.
Many of the augmenting forces are Army logisticians and medical professionals from across the services, deployed nationwide to increase capacity and reduce the burden on hospitals.
The ARNORTH mission has “changed considerably” after it transitioned to the JFLCC, responsible for overseeing all Title 10 ground forces in the fluid environment, he said.
“Very graciously, both the Army and the joint community provided us headquarters augmentation so that we could quickly scale up to the level needed to support operations across the United States,” he said.
Already, the command has rapidly employed fully-staffed hospitals to smaller integrated medical teams in at least seven states.
Part of those efforts include 15 Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces, which each consist of about 85 medical personnel. At least 11 of the task forces are currently assisting emergency efforts with the remaining four prepared to deploy.
The speed and agility at which the command has been able to pull forces together and adjust to each circumstance has impressed Glaser the most.
“The response in Boston is not the same as the response in Connecticut. It’s not the same as the response in New York City,” he said.
The command is also ready to scale up more or rebalance resources, if needed. One of its units — the 627th Hospital Center — is awaiting new orders to another hotspot after it deployed and built a field hospital in Seattle, he said.
While no patients were seen at the hospital, Glaser still called it a success since statewide preventive measures seemed to be working, thus eliminating the need for additional medical capacity.
“We’re hoping from the modeling over time and the great work being done across the United States with social distancing and health protection measures, there will be a downturn in the weeks ahead,” he said.
Previous events may have also helped ARNORTH be ready for the magnitude of today’s mission. Glaser said the command continually prepares for emergencies with about 60 interagency exercises each year.
And whether it is hurricanes in Puerto Rico, an earthquake in Alaska or wildland fires in the northwest, the command has also recently responded to real-world natural disasters.
“Similar to COVID-19, we respond to hurricanes and earthquakes, which are short to no-notice types of events,” he said. “Each and every day in order to prepare to respond to those types of events, we conduct exercises in support of the 54 states and territories.”
One of the larger exercises took place in Glaser’s home state of Ohio last summer.
Called Vigilant Guard, the disaster and emergency response exercise had 3,000 participants to test the state’s capabilities. It was known as the largest exercise of its kind ever conducted in the state.
“We do those across the United States every year,” he said.
The exercise was a prideful moment for Glaser and his home state. His father served nearly 40 years as a firefighter in Cincinnati. Glaser graduated from Xavier University and even pinned on his second star in front of Elder High School, where he once attended.
“As you’re going through high school, I don’t think you realize how the dedicated teachers shape your values,” he said. “I appreciated that more as I got older in life. I credit a lot of successes I’ve had to being from a great family and having exceptional teachers along the way.”
Even if the command has no current COVID-19 missions in Ohio, Glaser understands the importance of protecting communities like his around the country.
“That’s what this headquarters does every single day,” he said. “And we’re very proud of that and it brings us all a great deal of satisfaction.”