As the Pentagon calls on active units to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said Wednesday that he is prepared to sacrifice the readiness of some units to defeat the pandemic.
"The nation has asked us to help out with the vaccinations. ... We just sent out [the] first team of 222 [soldiers] from Fort Carson, Colorado, and we have another one standing by at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, from the 101st [Airborne Division]," he told an audience at a Heritage Foundation event.
"The Army is committed to making this happen, and could it affect readiness? Sure. Those units that are doing this, they are not training the way they need to, but we've got to defeat this enemy," he added.
The Pentagon announced last week that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had authorized an additional 20 teams, made up of about 3,600 troops, to fulfill a Federal Emergency Management Agency request to support vaccine sites around the country.
Austin approved five teams Feb. 4. The new total of 25 teams brings the troop strength supporting the FEMA effort to 4,700 personnel. The 20 newly authorized teams will be made up of 10 type-one teams, each consisting of 222 personnel supporting mega-vaccination sites. The other 10 teams will be smaller type-two teams of 139 personnel supporting smaller vaccination sites.
Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of U.S. Northern Command, said Tuesday that a large Air Force team will deploy to Houston, Texas, while a smaller team will travel to Brooklyn, New York. An Army and Marine Corps team will go to Dallas, Texas, while a Navy team heads to Queens, New York.
Teams will include personnel capable of distributing vaccines, as well as pharmacists, nurse supervisors and members who can handle the necessary paperwork, screen patients and run the vaccination sites, VanHerck said.
McConville said the Army exists to protect the nation against all enemies, adding that COVID-19 is an "invisible enemy."
"I think it's the right thing to do for the nation, and the sooner we defeat it, the better off we will be," he said.
The Army will continue to monitor individual unit readiness levels as the effort continues, he added.
"We are advising certain units if it has a big impact on their readiness, but right now we are comfortable where we are at," McConville said.
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