Skip to main content

Military Health System

Protecting the Force: How the MHS helped sustain readiness in the face of COVID

Image of Hospital personnel treating a patient on a stretcher. Sailors assigned to the hospital ship USNS Mercy treat a patient from Los Angeles medical facilities March 29. Mercy deployed in support of the nation's COVID-19 response efforts, serving a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients. (Photo by Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erwin Jacob Miciano.)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Readiness Capabilities

Keeping warfighters mission-ready and units online is always the top priority for the Military Health System, something complicated in 2020 by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Even as COVID-19 vaccine distribution begins, the MHS is preparing guidance for 2021 to build on its success in the past year by continuing to prevent the virus from having a significant effect on the readiness of U.S. Armed Forces.

Sustain medical readiness starts with a lack of complacency for health care workers and their supervisors. That mission has been complicated by 10 months of additional stress to the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of frontline service members dealing with the virus, from the steady risk of exposure to worries about spreading the disease to family members. But the basics, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, remain fundamentals in 2021, for MHS workers and anyone in uniform, including those who have received a vaccine. 

Navy Capt. John Rotruck, force surgeon of the III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, Japan, has witnessed COVID-19 protection and troop readiness measures from two shores of the Pacific Ocean this year.

Captain Rotruck speaking at a podium in front of the USNS Mercy
Navy Capt. John Rotruck, then the commanding officer of the USNS Mercy, speaks to members of the press before the ship departed Naval Base San Diego in March. Mercy deployed in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts, serving as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients admitted to shore-based hospitals. (Photo by Navy Communication Specialist 1st Class David Mora Jr.)

Before his current duty station, he was the military medical treatment facility commanding officer on the hospital ship USNS Mercy, which made port in Los Angeles to serve as a relief valve for civilian hospitals so the city’s health professionals could focus on the COVID-19 cases that were overwhelming the city. The Mercy’s mission was considered defense support of civil authorities, and was led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“MTF and civilian mariners instituted aggressive COVID mitigation measures early on,” Rotruck recalled. This included compliance with the Department of Defense mandatory mask policy, and hand-washing and social distancing whenever possible.

“As we began to experience a few cases amongst the crew, we took aggressive efforts to complete contact tracing and test and quarantine any close contacts, to include exit quarantine testing,” Rotruck said.

The DOD published more than a dozen force health protection guidance documents in 2020, covering many areas to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread within the U.S. Military. This includes guidance for testing, travel, face coverings, re-integrating individuals who recovered from COVID-19 back into their units, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), how to assess risks at MTFs, and more.

“Installation commanders follow local public health guidance and make sure we have a well-informed force, as evidenced by the behavior they’ve exhibited throughout this pandemic,” said Lernes Hebert, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, at a July press briefing at the Pentagon.

In California, the Mercy had some tricky logistical maneuvering to do, moving many crew members to single hotel rooms off-ship. A tent was set up on the flight deck to provide additional social distancing during meals.

Those measures, though unique to this particular Navy hospital ship, were consistent with triage systems used at MTFs. Under the guidance of public health officers, these systems separated patients with suspected COVID-19 exposure from other patients and providers. Additionally, in the early days of the pandemic, the MHS paused elective and non-essential procedures at MTFs, limiting exposure risk and preserving PPE for COVID-19 patients.

Rotruck said the Mercy was fortunate to have an infectious diseases physician aboard, “with whom we continually consulted. Naval Medical Forces Pacific also deployed a Navy Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine Unit detachment with us, who conducted all of our COVID testing and oversaw our contact tracing.”

All the support was “invaluable” for maintaining the crew’s health, he said.

Meanwhile, Rotruck’s new unit in Japan is keeping an eye on the COVID-19 situation within several populations. 

“As you can imagine, force readiness through force health and preservation is our top priority, so we maintain our ability to respond to crisis,” he said. “We continue to monitor COVID closely both within our [status of forces agreement] population and in the local community, and adjust our force health protection posture accordingly, to maintain that force readiness.”

You also may be interested in...

How the U.S. Military Acclimates Units to High-Altitude Operations

Article
11/28/2022
Service members on a mountain

The Military Health System takes measures to prevent and mitigate altitude sickness in service members operating at high altitudes. For best results, it’s key to acclimate units gradually and progressively.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Time to Get Your Flu Shot and Your COVID-19 Booster, Too

Article
10/14/2022
Senior MHS officials and medics from the Pentagon stand together Oct. 13 after receiving their flu shots and bivalent COVID-19 boosters.."

It's flu shot time. Get your COVID-19 booster at the same time.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Toolkit | Immunizations | Coronavirus

Prevent the Spread of Influenza and COVID-19 Viruses Within Your Community

Article
10/11/2022
A person getting an injection on their arm.

As families return from summer vacation and students return to school, the influenza (flu) season is approaching while the COVID-19 pandemic is still on-going.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Immunizations | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Toolkit

Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine Now Available for 12 to 17 Year-Olds

Article
8/30/2022
Air Force Staff. Sgt. fills a syringe with a COVID-19 vaccine at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine is Available for Those 12 Years' Old and Above

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

New COVID-19 Boosters Against Subvariants Coming Soon

Article
8/29/2022
Marine on right gets a COVID-19 booster vaccination from a nursing student on his left.

Brooklyn Marine gets COVID-19 booster vaccination.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

How to Get Your Kids Up to Date on Vaccinations

Article
8/25/2022
Child wearing a mask getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Resources to help you get and keep your child’s immunizations up to date in time for back to school.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Back to School | Immunization Healthcare Division

Bulgarian Armed Forces Demonstrate Combat Medical Advancements

Article
8/22/2022
Two medics tend to a dummy in a simulated emergency.

Bulgarian Armed Forces showed off their combat lifesaving training to a U.S. delegation Aug. 10.

Recommended Content:

Education & Training | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Global Health Engagement

Learn the Most Recent Age Requirements for COVID-19 Vaccines and Boosters

Article
8/10/2022
A man fist bumps a child.

The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to get your vaccines and booster shots.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Telemedicine Privilege by Proxy Expands Access to MHS Care

Article
8/10/2022
Infographic featuring Lt Col Legault

MHS has Telemedicine Privilege by Proxy: A fast, efficient process that enables providers to file one application and get permission to virtually treat patients anywhere in the MHS.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Telehealth Program

DHA Program Supports Training Education of Future Medical Providers

Article
7/20/2022
Military personnel looking at display

The Clinical Investigations Program combines research and training to teach and develop the future clinicians of the Military Health System.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training | Health Care Technology | Health Readiness & Combat Support

The Need for Speed Requires Intense Training

Article
7/18/2022
 Military personnel conducts routine ops in US 3rd Fleet

Tom Cruise has nothing on real military pilots and their training.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training | Physical Fitness

Army Experts: Rabies Risk is Not Worth It

Article
7/5/2022
Army Experts: Rabies Risk is Not Worth It

Almost 60,000 people around the world die from rabies each year. Despite the common belief that rabid animals are easily identified by foaming at the mouth and aggressive behavior, infected animals may not look sick or act strangely.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health | Rabies

Final Days in Afghanistan: Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

Article
6/30/2022
Final Days in Afghanistan Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

“Prior to the attack, teams were preparing to leave the area. Suddenly, everything changed, and our main goal shifted from COVID-19 support to blood supply and triage.”

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

How Drones Will Transform Battlefield Medicine – and Save Lives

Article
6/23/2022
Drones carrying fresh blood products to wounded troops on the front lines may be critical for military medicine in a conflict against a "near-peer" adversary.

Emerging technology may use drones to deliver blood products for wounded troops on the front lines of combat. That capability may be critical in a "near-peer" conflict.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

How MHS GENESIS will become essential to patients' health journey

Article
6/21/2022
Dr. Robert Marshall, program director of the Department of Defense Clinical Informatics Fellowship at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Ensuring proper training of both providers and patients is essential for the successful integration and sustainment of MHS GENESIS into MHS care.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Care Technology | MHS GENESIS Toolkit | MHS GENESIS: The Electronic Health Record | MHS GENESIS
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 18
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 20, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery