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Defending the Homeland: Secretary of the Army recognizes BACH and 531st COVID-19 support

Two soldiers in masks elbow bumping U.S. Army Col. Brandon J. Pretlow, assigned to the 44th Medical Brigade, elbow bumps service members assigned to the Urban Augmentation Task Force as a sign of gratitude at the Javits Center in New York City, May 27, 2020. (U.S. Air Force video by Staff Sgt. Zoe Russell)

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Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy visited Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and met with BACH and 531st Hospital Center leaders to discuss their ongoing COVID-19 response, Thursday, June 11. 

BACH Commander Army Col. (Dr.) Patrick Birchfield briefed the secretary on how his team is supporting medical readiness for the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, as well as caring for beneficiaries, in response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. 

531st Hospital Center Commander Army Col. Brandon Pretlow, who remains in quarantine after his return from mission, joined in virtually and shared the lessons learned from his unit’s recent deployment to New York City and the Northeast, providing COVID-19 medical support. About 20 medical personnel assigned to duty at BACH joined the 531st during its first-of-its-kind deployment. 

The secretary praised BACH and the 531st Hospital Center Soldiers and its supporting units. 

“This unit was the first one that responded to the U.S. Army in response to the COVID-19 crisis and it set the tone for the rest of the activity of the U.S. Army since February,” said McCarthy. “Now we’ve responded in all 50 states and 14 countries. We saved the lives of thousands of Americans in the process and brought a level of calm to the American people in response to COVID-19 when we were on the ropes. It’s remarkable what you all did with your teammates. It truly is extraordinary. I can’t tell you how proud we are.” 

McCarthy took time to recognize several Soldiers and a Department of the Army Civilian for their efforts in the Army’s COVID-19 response. 

From BACH, Angie Strohl, COVID-19 clinic nurse-in-charge, and Army Staff Sgt. Derrick Hise, COVID-19 clinic non-commissioned officer-in-charge, were recognized for their efforts in planning, staffing, training and operating BACH’s COVID-19 Evaluation and Testing Clinic and COVID-19 Triage Advice Line. The clinic has supported testing of more than 1,500 beneficiaries and coordinated care and support to the small percentage of beneficiaries testing positive. 

“In the beginning it was very hectic,” said Hise. “There was a very short timeframe of which we had to react and it was literally just on a weekend we were told, we need this done in a couple days. It’s definitely been a challenge, on every aspect possible. The logistical aspects, the manpower aspects. There are so many different things that you take in when you’re considering trying to set up and rapidly deploy a contingency plan for something like this.” 

Soldiers from Fort Campbell’s 531st Hospital Center, a deployable unit that provides medical support and hospital care down range, also deployed to New York City where they set up a temporary hospital in support of the federal response to the national emergency. The 531st was one several military units deployed to cities where healthcare resources were overwhelmed. 

“We ran into people and they had no idea that the Army was this big for medical support. They thought, the Army is always out in the field, but then they got to realize our medical capabilities and they were very grateful,” said Army Sgt. Brian Andrews, a practical nursing specialist from the 586th Field Hospital, a unit under the 531st. 

McCarthy recognized Andrews for filling an integral role in establishing the intensive care unit and intermediate care ward at the Javits Center in New York, where the 531st established a temporary hospital.

“On the ICU side, we cared for intubated patients, but we also cared for patients, fortunately, who did not have to be intubated and I was able to get to know them, get to talk to them, and had really good conversations where they would tell me their stories, what was going on, how long they’d been there. They wanted to know what I was doing in the Army and how I became what I am doing today, so it was good interaction throughout,” Andrews shared. 

The secretary also recognized Army Capt. Joshua Davis, a licensed social worker from the 212th Combat Operational Stress Control Unit, who volunteered to serve as an operations officer supporting logistics support to the Soldiers in New York; and Army Sgt. Justin Vasquez, a medical laboratory specialist assigned to the 501st Medical Company Area Support, who provided COVID-19 laboratory testing at the Javits Center. 

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