The Army asked its "soldiers for life" who are trained in medical fields to come back to do battle against the novel coronavirus pandemic. And to date, more than 25,000 have answered the call, officials said.
The service first sent out an appeal in late March to retired officers and enlisted soldiers from a targeted set of specialties, asking for volunteers to re-don the uniform and reinforce Army communities thinned by emergency field hospital and personnel deployments to regions hit hardest by the virus. It would ultimately expand the call for volunteers to recently separated soldiers in the Individual Ready Reserve and to "gray-area" soldiers -- Guardsmen and reservists who have completed 20 years but haven't yet met requirements for retirement.
The field totaled "approximately 800,000," officials said, meaning that more than 3% of all former soldiers contacted by the Army responded to say they could help.
Now, the service is working to process the horde of volunteers, ensuring those it takes are properly qualified and certified, and -- importantly -- not currently working in medical care in a civilian capacity.
"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," Brig. Gen. Twanda E. Young, U.S. Army Human Resources Command deputy commanding general and reserve personnel management director, said in a released statement.
The calls for volunteers went out to those who had served in specialties including critical care officer; anesthesiologist; nurse anesthetist; critical care nurse; nurse practitioner; ER nurse; respiratory specialist; and medic.
But soldiers in other fields also reached out to Human Resources Command to offer their services, officials said. And the Army does plan to consider them for service, too.
Planners are now working around the clock to process applications and determine where volunteers can serve, according to an Army release.
"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. "We understand the urgency, thus we are working multiple shifts to sift through screening volunteers to get them at the point of need."
Once volunteers are screened and validated, they are sorted by specialty and matched up with Army personnel needs. No orders have been cut to date; all volunteers are still in different parts of the vetting process, according to the release. Orders are expected to be open-ended, and officials did note that volunteers will be given time and flexibility to put their lives in order before they report for duty.
The Army has not provided a precise timeline for when the first volunteer soldiers might be back in uniform, or how many volunteers it plans to accept in total. According to the release, new volunteers are still being accepted by HRC.
Army medical detachments are already deploying around the country to assist civilian providers with managing major virus outbreaks. Military doctors are now assisting in New York City hospitals, and the Army has deployed three mobile field hospital units, staffed by about 330 soldiers apiece.
One of those hospitals, deployed to Seattle, has already closed after just a few days, a sign that patient capacity has become more manageable amid extreme social distancing and protective measures.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.