By Thomas Brading | Army News Service
FORT KNOX, Ky. — As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, many civilian medical providers’ capabilities are being stretched thin. To help fill this gap, the Army has deployed its own medical professionals to the field, and are now calling on former Soldiers to join the battle.
Last month, the Army reached out to approximately 800,000 retired Soldiers, gray-area Soldiers and Individual Ready Reserve Soldiers, asking them to join the response effort.
So far roughly 25,000 from numerous backgrounds have volunteered to rejoin the Army team, said Brig. Gen. Twanda E. Young, U.S. Army Human Resources Command deputy commanding general and reserve personnel management director.
Many non-medical respondents volunteered through the HRC website at https://www.hrc.army.mil/, Young said. Once screened, qualified individuals will provide additional capabilities to support the COVID-19 pandemic response, she said.
“This effort seems very simplistic — Soldiers volunteer and we just bring them back on active duty, but it requires a specialized team of professionals knowledgeable in Reserve policy, which the reserve personnel management directorate provides,” Young said. This is a herculean effort, she added. “We understand the urgency, thus we are working multiple shifts to sift through screening volunteers to get them at the point of need.”
Right now, Soldiers who are currently licensed in medical fields are preferred, but Army officials are encouraging all Soldiers to step up in the fight against COVID-19. “Army health care providers are heroes in the fight against COVID-19. Protecting our citizens from the novel coronavirus requires a vital call to action, and we need the help of many of our retired or recently-separated medical professionals,” Army officials stated in a news release. However, the Army doesn’t plan to mobilize veterans currently in medical jobs, Young said.
“If individuals are already serving in their local communities, we are proud of their service, and want them to continue serving in those communities as this effort is not to detract from current community support, but to enhance it,” she said. Potential volunteers may include medical students, retired doctors, or former Soldiers not involved in the medical community altogether. Key medical military occupational specialties needed include critical care nurses, anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, critical care nurses, nurse practitioners, emergency room nurses, and respiratory specialists, Young said. Who will be accepted and where they will go is a case-by-case basis depending on the needs of the Army, she said.
Although 25,000 former Soldiers have stepped up to the plate so far, Young expects that number to continue to increase as more people reach out every day. “When we talk about someone being a Soldier for Life, I don’t think you can get any better example than these individuals,” Young said. “These Soldiers are willing to rejoin the team and continue to serve.” After HRC receives volunteer requests, it sifts through and validates initial requests, then sorts them by specialty, Young said.
Right now, the duration of the orders are open-ended. “These are individuals who are putting their lives on hold,” Young said. “Even though we want to get them on as quickly as possible, we have to take into consideration they must get life affairs straight and give them the necessary time.”
After combing through volunteers’ credentials, the next step is matching them to what the Army needs, then getting them on orders, Young said. Right now, all volunteers are in various stages of the vetting process.
The vetting process works like a funnel, Young said, and filters down the volunteers into smaller numbers based on their credentials, requirements, background checks, and capabilities. Occasionally, “life happens” and some qualified volunteers are unable to commit to the Army’s requirements. The end goal is to get volunteers on-board quickly, she said. This way, the Army can utilize their skills, expertise and knowledge as needed, and can get them to the places they are needed the most. “Requirements are changing for what is needed,” Young said. “When we talk to Soldiers and explain that we are looking to bring them on, we caveat that statement by ensuring they understand this is at the point of what the Army needs and acceptance to be recalled is voluntary.
Individuals who don’t volunteer are no less of a Soldier for Life, she explained. The Army is blessed and appreciative of all of its Soldiers, because they still served honorably. “Our word is that we will take care of Soldiers and make sure that they and their families are taken care of,” Young said to those who have volunteered to give back to the nation. These Soldiers have gone through the gauntlet, she said, and the Army is proud of their service. They are skilled to operate in some very uncertain and complex times. “It makes me proud to be a Soldier — not just a general officer — but a Soldier in America’s Army to see the level of commitment and dedication of those currently serving and those who have served, and their willingness to rejoin the team,” Young said.
Soldiers who are interested should provide their information using the COVID-19 Voluntary Recall Survey found on the HRC webpage at https://www.hrc.army.mil/.