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Military medicine heroes recognized for COVID-19 pandemic response

Photo of the virtual "Heroes of Military Medicine" award ceremony Army General Gustave Perna credited “the true unsung heroes” of the COVID-19 pandemic, “the over 100,000 Americans who supported clinical trials, who made delivering hundreds of millions of vaccines possible.” Perna made his remarks virtually to the Henry Jackson Foundation “Heroes of Military Medicine” awards ceremony May 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C., where he was honored for his senior leadership of the COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutics effort. (Courtesy of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc.)

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The COVID-19 pandemic will have a lifetime impact on how military medicine is conducted, Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place told the Henry M. Jackson Foundation (HJF) for the Advancement of Military Medicine "Heroes of Military Medicine" awards ceremony May 6, in Washington, D.C.

"The events of the past year will have profound effects on medicine, military medicine, for years to come in how we prepare for threats, how we organize, who we organize alongside of in making the system better for everyone," Place said.

Of the honorees and the whole-of-America effort to detect and mitigate the impact of the virus, he said, "Success requires shared commitments and shared responsibilities." Readiness, he said, "means being ready for anything. This is what our future looks like."

"That's what the Military Health System does best," Place said, with "medical teams coming together to improve health care for those we serve, whether that is caring for a wounded soldier in Afghanistan or a retired Marine battling a novel infectious disease."

"Dr. Terry Adirim, acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told attendees: "As the complexity of bringing health care to all military members around the globe has increased, so too has our appreciation for the broad spectrum of skills that make military medicine truly world class. Tonight, we just don't recognize clinicians, we recognize laboratory expertise, logistics professionals, and acquisition specialists."

"This is a total team effort that exemplifies military medicine's potential during the COVID-19 pandemic," Adirim said. "Perhaps more than ever before, we have pushed laboratories to deliver more results faster, we've asked acquisition systems to produce equipment at a wartime scope and scale, and we've relied on our logisticians to figure out how to get vaccines delivered around the world. These are unprecedented facts."

The foundation recognized as its senior leader honoree Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer for the federal COVID-19 vaccines/therapeutics operation (Operation Warp Speed). He co-leads the partnership to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

Said HJF president and CEO, Dr. Joseph Caravalho of Perna: "There was no individual in this country better positioned to lead the whole-of-government, public-private logistics operation to ensure every eligible American had ready access to the newly developed vaccines. History will show this critical aspect of supply chain logistics was accomplished with precision. For that, the nation owes a debt of gratitude to this senior leader and his management team."

In his previous assignment, Perna served as the 19th general commander of U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC), one of the Army's largest commands.

DHA Director Dr. Ronald Place speaking at a podium
DHA Director Dr. Ronald Place tells HJF awards ceremony that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lifetime impact on how military medicine is conducted. (Courtesy of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc.)

Introducing Perna, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley said if AMC were a private company, it would be among the Fortune 100.

He called Perna "the most talented logistician who has ever worn the uniform." And added, "No one demonstrates personal perseverance and organizational logistics leadership better than General Perna."

Perna said the situation with COVID-19 is much like the WWII war-time footing and deployment. "The situation is very similar. While we're in different times, our 'whole-of-America' response harnessed the power and existing capabilities of government, scientists, and industry. Without them, delivering safe and effectives vaccines and therapeutics in under a year would not have been possible."

He credited "the dedication and hard work of our entire team, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services, industry partners, and the true unsung heroes - the over 100,000 Americans who supported clinical trials, who made delivering hundreds of millions of vaccines possible."

Army honoree Lt. Col Michelle Colacicco-Mayhugh is the military deputy to the principal assistant for acquisition at the U.S. Medical Research and Development Command. Since April 2019, she has served as a product lead for the COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force and the Defense Assisted Acquisition Cell, supporting the interagency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Army Brig. Gen Mary Kreuger introduced Colacicco-Mayhugh as making "an incredible impact on our nation's efforts to combat COVID-19 in the last year." Krueger, the deputy chief of staff of support, U.S. Army Medical Command, said Colacicco-Mayhugh has "delivered critical solutions for the nationwide vaccine campaigns and her contributions and leadership were instrumental in developing the initial strategy to ensure that the supplies required to manufacturer, package, and administer COVID-19 vaccines were readily available."

Colacicco-Mayhugh credited "a massive team of people" who took on more work to fill in for the first-line teams. "Those people are not recognized nearly enough, but their contributions are equally as critical as each of the people who ended up supporting a specific pandemic-response effort," she said.

Introducing Air Force military medicine honoree Lt. Col. Patrick Kennedy was Air Force Maj. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, surgeon general of the Air Force. She quoted poet/writer Maya Angelou about who is a hero - "a person really intent on making this a better place" - and said "this is exactly was Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Kennedy has done."

Kennedy is the director of the 60th Medical Group's Clinical Investigation Facility at Travis Air Force Base, California. He supports the Air Force Medical Service line and readiness mission research requirements by addressing medical capability gaps to improve health outcomes.

Army Lt. Col. Michelle Colacicco-Mayhugh accepting an award
Army Lt. Col. Michelle Colacicco-Mayhugh accepts her 2021 “Heroes of Military Medicine” honor at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine awards ceremony May 6, 2021. (Courtesy of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc.)

Discussing the pandemic, Kennedy said: "The ambiguity of COVID-19 drove my team on every front to learn more."

Having worked on the Ebola crisis, Kennedy said: "I was aware of the potential of a large-scale respiratory pandemic from the onset. Particularly of concern was the high transmissibility rate."

Kennedy manages more than 50 human/animal research protocols, a $31.8 million budget, and a 45-member staff that includes physicians, nurses, scientists, and support personnel, according to HJF. In addition, he oversees regulatory compliance with federal/DOD/Air Force research guidelines.

He has been honored for his work on the Ebola outbreak, for improving wounded soldier outcomes at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, and for his work on an advisory committee to convey and assess biosafety security risks to the Assistant Secretary of Defense on nuclear, biological, and chemical entities, HJF said.

Navy honoree Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Matthew Hall serves as the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery's preventive medicine and public health policy advisor during the pandemic. His initial work in coordinating logistic and medical policy efforts in the Department of the Navy and across the joint force was instrumental in the successful implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination program, HJF said. As a public health emergency officer, he has conducted numerous COVID contact investigations, overseen outbreak responses, and advised on the safe operations of Navy installations worldwide under pandemic precautions, said HJF.

He is also a major contributor in the development of Navy COVID-19 containment policy and oversees the Department of the Navy's influenza vaccination program, which is responsible for the vaccination of more than 500,000 service members and dependents.

Navy Surgeon General Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham said of Hall: "I've had him on speed dial as one of my closest advisors throughout the pandemic...so that I can provide the best possible guidance to the fleet marine force as they operate around the world."

The annual awards "recognize outstanding contributions by senior military leaders and medical professionals, as well as civilians who have distinguished themselves through excellence and dedication to advancing military medicine and enhancing the lives and health of our nation's wounded, ill, and injured service members, veterans, and their families."

Also honored during the ceremony were COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Janssen, AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Pasteur.

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