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Military Medicine Joining Forces to Fight COVID-19 All Around the World

Image of A group of military personnel posing for a picture. USFJ Surgeon Cell COVID-19, 28 May 2020, USFJ Yokota AB, Japan.

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the efforts of Navy Medicine’s research and development enterprise (NMR&D) to support everything from outbreak response to laboratory detection and warships to floating hospitals highlights the speed and relevance of military medical and scientific capabilities that help make the U.S. armed forces so strong.

From staffing aboard the Navy’s hospital ships and aircraft carriers to clinical studies at hospitals and in the field, many of Naval Medical Research Center’s (NMRC) staff members were out helping to quash COVID-19 during quarantine. Navy Capt. Charmagne Beckett, senior clinical research medical officer at NMRC’s Infectious Diseases Directorate, deployed within three days of receiving the order to the U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) where she is now the Assistant Officer in Charge.

The USFJ Surgeon, dual hatted as the U.S. Air Force 374th Medical Group (MDG) Commander, submitted several requests for forces to support the COVID-19 mission. The additional forces allowed the standing up of the Surgeon Cell with the mission "to monitor, prevent, contain, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 disease through direct action and collaborative efforts to preserve Warfighter readiness by keeping our service members, civilian employees, family members, and our neighboring community healthy, resilient and safe."

Multiple commands from the Navy and Air Force responded to the request with personnel from all over the country, including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, Wright Patterson, Randolph Air Force Base (AFB), Randolph AFB, Davis-Monthan AFB, Scott AFB and Naval Medical Center San Diego. Beckett and the 14-member team are providing knowledge, skill sets and capabilities from a variety of disciplines: preventive medicine, infectious diseases, advanced care nursing, medical planning, public health analytics and medical surveillance. Beckett and the Surgeon Cell team are providing direct support and advisement of all COVID-19 related activities.

“We are hopeful that the USFJ Surgeon Cell provides strength to the overall COVID-19 response across Japan’s sub-unified commands. Specifically, at the 374th MDG, clinical research activities were limited prior to COVID-19 but the need to establish access to potential life-saving therapeutics was great thus paving the way for speedy processing of protocol approvals and training,” Beckett said.

The 374th MDG located at Yokota AB, Japan, ensures medical readiness of the 374th Airlift Wing, 5th Air Force, the U.S. Forces Japan Headquarters staff and provides health care, including occupational health, preventive medicine and environmental protection to more than 11,000 personnel.

Working in a new environment even temporarily requires adjustments to professional routines as well as personal. The additional COVID-19 restrictions and requirements do not hinder the work efforts but they can sometimes add to the challenges and no deployment is without challenges.

“The major challenge is the requirement to gather and synthesize the rapidly evolving information regarding COVID-19. We are cautious to avoid missing important information that would threaten to impact operational missions,” Beckett said.

“This mission demands learning and adapting to a joint environment,” she added. “After 26 years on active duty, staying flexible is a personal, life-long lesson that I've continued for this mission. Things change swiftly and constantly – especially with COVID-19.”

Beckett and the Surgeon Cell team are expected to remain in Japan for roughly 170 days and they are already planning redeployments. A new rotation will replace the current team in order to maintain the critical functions. NMR&D has deployed over 30 people to the COVID-19 fight to date.

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