The Defense Department has provided medical equipment to federal agencies in need, and DOD's top-tier research scientists and medical professionals are working with the private sector to develop a vaccine, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said in a live-streamed town hall meeting from the Pentagon on Thursday.
The secretary was joined by Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón "CZ" Colón-López.
"[DOD is] also working to develop therapeutics to help us get through this crisis as quickly as possible, and on top of that, we continue to maintain our top mission, which is making sure the United States remains safe and secure," Esper said.
He outlined his three priorities for the department's COVID-19 response: protecting soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians and their families; preserving essential mission capabilities to continue defending the American people, the United States and its interests abroad; and providing full support to the whole-of-government response to the pandemic.
Everyone must do their part to reduce the spread of the virus, Esper said.
"We see some light at the end of the tunnel, but we're far from being out of the woods. … I urge you to follow the president of the United States' 30-day plan and [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance to help reduce the spread of the virus," the secretary said.
The CDC recently outlined guidance on face coverings, and DOD immediately put out its policy, he noted.
"Many of our adversaries … are trying to exploit this crisis," Esper said. "So it's important that we maintain readiness by full faith and confidence in our commanders." DOD will ensure deployed troops receive the support and resources they need to accomplish their critical national security missions, he added.
The secretary pointed out that service members have put their own health on the line to help protect their fellow Americans.
"So you have my highest regard, my respect and my pride, and I want to thank you, for these are difficult times," Esper said. "But I'm confident we will get through this together, and we will be stronger and more resilient on the back end."
Milley said everyone in the military is making a contribution.
"We're going to continue to defend our country," he said. "We're going to continue to provide mission assurance around the world. We're also going to continue to protect the American people from the ravages of COVID-19, and we will continue to take care of our troops and our families."
The chairman offered three pieces of advice.
"One, pay attention to the guidance that has been put out by the CDC and the president," he said. "Two, use the chain of command. We think that information that flows up and down the chain of command has been significant over the last several weeks, but we encourage you to continue to use that. And third is take care of each other. If you see … someone that is challenged with COVID-19, please speak up, help them out and get them to the right medical facility."
Colón-López also outlined his priorities.
First, he said, is to continue to arm personnel with the facts and what they need to do to get past this pandemic. Second, he pledged continued effort to "cover our blind spots — the things that we haven't considered yet," noting that feedback from the field will help the force get to the root causes of problems and generate solutions.
"As we continue to navigate through this minefield, I want to make sure that you all know that we appreciate your candor, your expedient feedback, but most importantly, your support to one another," Colón-López said.
"We're here to learn from you and others to tailor our guidance to best care for you and your families," the SEAC emphasized. "And I will tell you that both the secretary and the chairman have both been really receptive to the feedback from you. So help us continue making it better for everyone."
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