Dear Esteemed Navy Medicine Colleagues,
Naval superiority means fighting and winning against enemies on the sea, on land, and as is the case with COVID-19, even in the Biosphere. This is where we truly see the real Power of Navy Medicine in action and the impact our incredible high-performing teams are having in combating this invisible adversary. Because of YOUR significant, selfless and incredible efforts, we are having dramatic effects on mitigating the spread of this disease, protecting our Navy and Marine Corps team, and maintaining mission readiness. Together, WE have deployed the largest force of medical personnel since Operations DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM, nearly 30 years ago. WE have deployed almost 4,000 Sailors on our hospital ships and in civilian medical facilities around the country, working shoulder-to-shoulder with local health care providers during this crisis, and we remain committed to sustaining this effort for as long as our nation requires. WE are flat out making a difference!
Last week the Chief of Naval Operations commended our speed and professionalism when a Sailor suffering respiratory issues was medically evacuated off the USS KIDD (DDG 100). Within hours of the Sailor’s test coming back positive for COVID-19, NMRTC Jacksonville deployed a special seven person medical team to conduct contact tracing, do onsite testing aboard the ship and to support the Independent Duty Corpsman in caring for his patients. Although the medical team didn’t expect to find themselves on a DDG in the Eastern Pacific when they went to work that morning, their rapid response provided critical support to the ship and demonstrates why we all need to maintain a high state of personal and unit readiness.
USS MAKIN ISLAND (LHD 8) rendezvoused with KIDD to establish a COVID-19 afloat medical response. MAKIN ISLAND embarked a fleet surgical team to provide intensive care unit capability, ventilators, and additional testing. Together, providers from the KIDD and MAKIN ISLAND worked tirelessly to test and care for patients who tested positive. The KIDD is now in San Diego where NEPMU-5, NHRC, and NMRTC San Diego are fully supporting her return with pier side testing and follow on health surveillance screening services for Sailors placed in quarantine or isolation. Fortunately, none of the sailors are currently hospitalized.
The coronavirus is a new pathogen and we are rapidly implementing lessons learned through operationalized mitigation and prevention efforts. Sailors and Marines aboard the DDG and LHD have directly benefited from the logistical and medical experiences we have gained in our support of the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN-71). From our research scientists and public health experts, to our medical professionals deployed forward and serving at home, we are collecting, analyzing, and leveraging data to prepare our warfighters to operate in this new warfighting domain.
Our staff at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam has been doing much of the “heavy lifting” in providing twice daily health surveillance screenings, administering nasal swab testing, and delivering daily medical support and care to those in need. Importantly, they continue to collaborate with other medical assets on Guam (3rd Medical Battalion, USAF’s 36th Medical Group, a SPRINT from NMRTC San Diego, and TR’s medical department) to ensure the TR is ready to execute its mission. Similarly, I know commands across Navy Medicine are working hard each day to provide nasal swab testing and health surveillance support to units across enterprise, including Carrier Strike Groups and Marine Corps Recruit Depots.
Although we are far from defeating this virus, the Navy is aggressively applying COVID-19 lessons learned. As a prudent measure, every Sailor deploying in our next Carrier Strike Group aboard the USS NIMITZ (CVN 68) was placed in a pre-underway restriction of movement and to further ensure they deploy COVID-free, testing of more than 7,000-plus Sailors is presently underway. Similar plans are being conducted for future deploying ships and subs; including SSBNs. The coordination performed by Navy Medicine assets in both fleet and medical treatment facilities to make this happen reflects the continued value and importance of operating as a ONE NAVY MEDICINE team.
Finally, as DoD shifts into a “stabilization” phase in the COVID-19 fight, we will soon welcome back the COMFORT to Norfolk. The hospital ship served as a powerful symbol of hope and resilience during this crisis. The men and women of the COMFORT did a commendable job bravely going into harm’s way to serve at the epicenter of the virus, treating severely ill New Yorkers. They shall return to “Ready 5” status and remain ready for future tasking.
Thank you for your continued collaboration, coordination, communication and most importantly, the care you bring to your work and to the well-being of your families, co-workers and yourself. We are in the early stages of this marathon. A steady, sustained pace, recharging ourselves physically and mentally along the way, will continue to be a key factor in our ability to project the full force of our Navy Medical Power.
It has been said that an individual can make a difference, but that only a team can make a miracle. Whether you are contributing by holding the fort at your MTF; teleworking from your kitchen table while grading your child’s homework or caring for your family members; deploying to one of our nation’s community hospitals to link arms with and relieve exhausted civilian medical staff or underway on the vanguard of freedom YOU are a critically important part of the Navy Medicine team. We are a team that is remaining steadfast in its resolve to protect and defend our shipmates and our fellow citizens. Of such sustained dedication and commitment miracles are made.
With my continued respect and admiration,
Bruce L. Gillingham, MD, CPE, FAOA
RADM, MC, USN
Surgeon General, U.S. Navy
Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery