Coronavirus Pandemic Proves the Need for a Bigger Force, SecArmy Says

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Texas Army National Guard troops set up a field hospital in Dallas.
Texas Army National Guard troops set up a field hospital in response to COVID-19 April 1, 2020, at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. (Charissa A. Menken/Texas Air National Guard)

As soldiers are once again called on to respond to the coronavirus crisis, the Army's top civilian leader said the pandemic proves the need for a bigger force.

The Army has dispatched more than 50,000 soldiers to states across the country during the coronavirus pandemic, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Thursday. That's at the same time 178,000 more soldiers have been deployed to the Middle East, Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere across the globe.

"Quite frankly, all [the pandemic] does is justify a large end strength," McCarthy said during a FedInsider event on how the novel coronavirus is affecting the military.

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Soldiers have built hospitals, supported hospital staff, helped deliver food and managed nursing homes since the president declared a national emergency in March as COVID-19 cases began sweeping across the country, now killing more than 137,000 Americans.

"We have been on every front of the COVID pandemic, along with deterring near peers, combat operations in the Middle East, and we're the ones central to the vaccine development effort for the president on Operation Warp Speed," the Army secretary said.

McCarthy did not specify Thursday how many more soldiers he thinks the Army needs.

When now-Defense Secretary Mark Esper was serving in McCarthy's position in 2018, the Army announced a plan to boost the size of the active-duty force to 500,000 over the next decade.

The service's end-strength goal for 2021 is 486,000.

Maj. Gen. Paul Chamberlain, who heads up the Army budget, told reporters in February, when next year's budget was unveiled, that the service planned to increase the size of the force modestly over the next four to five years, adding about 1,000 soldiers annually.

The Army took on new coronavirus-related missions earlier this month. U.S. Army North announced it dispatched medical and support troops to Texas and California, two states that have seen summer spikes in COVID-19 cases.

The request to send military personnel to the two locations came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the states.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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