Friday, April 17, 2020

Deploying for Duty: Army Wife, Mom of 5, Heads to NYC to Fight COVID-19

April 17, 2020 | BY Katie Lange , DOD News

As an Army wife, Jessica Henninger is used to her husband deploying and being away from the family. So, it was a surreal experience for the nurse who had been out of the workforce to be the one saying goodbye while her husband prepared to take care of their five kids as she left for a different kind of war — the fight against COVID-19.

"For a military spouse who's used to the attention always being on my husband and [people saying] 'Thank your husband for his service,' for people to be saying that to me now is so weird," said the 38-year-old Henninger, who left over the weekend to help overwhelmed health care workers in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Henninger put her own career on hold 18 months ago to take care of the couple's kids, who are 16, 14, 5, 1 and 4 months. But before that, she spent 20 years working in health care. Ten of those were as a nurse working in intensive care and with patients on ventilators in respiratory units.

So, she's perfectly cut out for the battle against COVID-19, and, once the crisis started ramping up, she knew she had to do something.

"There was this drive, I guess, just hearing all of the stories about how bogged down the nurses were and the atrocious nurse-patient ratios," Henninger said. "I thought, 'I have these skills, and they're not being used.' I can be helpful. I can't … just sit here on these skills doing nothing.'"

She found a position as a travel nurse — one who fills in at hospitals with short-term staffing needs — and was so focused on helping that she didn't contemplate having to leave her family behind.

"It wasn't until it got real — it got to me the night before I was going to leave — that all of a sudden I started realizing, 'I'm going to have to leave my baby,'" Henninger said of her 4-month-old son. "That's when it really started getting emotional for me. The morning I left, I was a mess."

Henninger's husband, Army Staff Sgt. Alex Henninger, is a broadcast specialist. During his 12-year Army career, he's been away from his family on deployments and other assignments for a fourth of that time. So, she's aware of what her family is in for.

"I knew it was going to be difficult for them, me being gone, but for me, it was just — we're nurses, and it's what we do," Henninger said.

Her husband understood.

"I was immediately on board with Jess's decision," Staff Sergeant Henninger said. "Her going to New York to do this is the same as me deploying to film in a combat zone. Both scenarios put us in the crucible of our training and experience. It's what we've prepared for our entire careers. I couldn't be more proud."

By April 13, Jessica was in Manhattan at an orientation, getting up to speed on what's going on at the hospital where she'll be working for the next eight weeks.

"Essentially, they're using the hospital that I'm at as an overflow for [COVID-19] patients as they start to stabilize and get a little less acute," she said. "They're not as critical, at this point, as they were when they first got sick."

She said her role will be a bit different from that of the average travel nurse, considering that the workers at the hospital — which she's been told not to name — don't usually work with patients suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.

"Normally, as a traveler, you go in and you're the new guy on the block, and you're looking to the more established staff to be, like, 'OK, you're my resource here,'" said. "But the [hospital] staff members will more than likely be looking to us, since we've done all of these types of things before."

She doesn't yet know if she'll have a set schedule for her time in New York. What she has been prepared for, though, is the need to stay flexible.

"They say that they're getting updates every single day as to what the changes are and how we're proceeding with things, so everything is just a really fluid situation, and we just have to be ready for anything," Henninger said.

At first, she said she was a little nervous because she hadn't practiced in a while, but after that first day, she felt much more prepared.

"Going through the orientation process has reinforced for me that, even though this is really an extraordinary time where we don't know what to expect, … all of the things that I know how to do and that are just a part of who I am as a nurse, none of that stuff has gone away," Henninger said.

She's finding comfort, too, in the fact that when it comes to this virus, everyone is the new kid on the block. "We're all in this together, learning new things and doing new things together," Henninger said.

DLA Disposition Services Makes Excess Military Items Available for COVID-19 Response

April 17, 2020 | BY Tim Hoyle

One organization's excess is often another's dire need. Sometimes it's not so much a matter of shortages as it is a matter of distribution.

Government organizations and nationwide hospitals are getting valuable assets to confront the coronavirus pandemic from a Defense Department asset that manages the military's excess equipment.

From Battle Creek, Michigan, Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services personnel oversee a global operation taking in equipment that's unneeded or unwanted because it's either being replaced by newer equipment  or it's just worn out.

Since a national emergency was declared as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DLA has provided almost 50,000 excess items – $2 million worth – such as personal protective equipment, beds, cots, ventilators and pouches for bio-hazard and human remains. Lists of available excess medical equipment are being provided to the DLA Headquarters COVID-19 Task Force, which works with military commands, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to determine where the items should go.

DLA Disposition Services has also recalled items it previously turned over to public sales contractor IronPlanet, including 47,000 N95 masks retrieved from Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. DLA partnership with the Defense Security Cooperation Agency and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has helped make other equipment available, as well.

While much of DLA Disposition Service's global workforce is now teleworking, almost 300 employees are still reporting to their regular worksites to process property turn-ins.

''I lead a wonderful team of professionals — property disposal specialists, environmentalists, contracting specialists, inventory management specialists and others operating in field locations across 42 different states and 15 countries — sometimes working in dangerous places,'' said DLA Disposition Services Director Mike Cannon. ''I think it's a great place to work with wonderful people who execute a mission daily that is always challenging and demanding, even when things are 'normal'.''

Field locations remain open although hours and operations may be reduced, he added. Employees continue to receive items ranging from ordinary household and office equipment to specialized items like uniforms, sleeping bags and tents. Material in good condition is first made available to other military units, then to other federal agencies like FEMA, followed by state agencies and local governments.

''We also have programs that Congress has, in some form of legislation, told us to operate to give priority to military excess to different groups like the Law Enforcement Support Office, the firefighter program managed by the U.S. Forest Service and an educational support effort called Computers for Learning,'' Cannon said.

LESO gives law enforcement agencies access to excess items like vehicles, tools, computers and other items needed to help protect citizens. Recipients pay only transportation costs plus maintenance or conversion costs.

''A good example are the former military vehicles being used by the police department of the West Mifflin Area School District in Pennsylvania to deliver food to students staying home because of school closures,'' Cannon said.

The West Mifflin Area School District in Pennsylvania uses former Massachusetts National Guard trucks as school lunch delivery vehicles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Likewise, DLA helps fire departments receive excess Defense Department property such as vehicles and tools through the Forest Service. Schools have also received excess information technology items for many years, some of which teachers may be using for online learning during the pandemic.

''We have outfitted hundreds of schools, and it's really enlightening because they will typically send us a picture of the kids at the computers,'' Cannon said. ''So we get to see that DLA can enhance education across the nation by donating excess computers to a school district that might not otherwise be able to afford it without raising taxes.''

(Tim Hoyle is with DLA Disposition Services)

Army Ramps Up COVID-19 Testing

April 17, 2020 | BY Sean Kimmons , Army News Service

With nearly 1,000 soldiers now tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Army is continuing to ramp up its testing efforts, particularly for new recruits at training posts.

Starting next week, one of the Army's largest training posts — Fort Jackson, South Carolina — will be able to conduct about 700 tests each day for the virus after receiving new machines to increase its throughput.

In a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville said he visited the installation the day before to see how soldiers were training under new safety measures.

''We have not stopped training,'' he said. ''During the training, they were 6 feet apart and they were either wearing masks or gaiters when they got closer. So we're going to see this type of training continue to happen.''

When recruits now come to training posts, they are screened and placed in what he described as a ''safety bubble'' environment to minimize exposure to other soldiers while they train with their cohort.

''That's how we will keep the spread of the virus down,'' he said.

Earlier this month, the Army halted the movement of new recruits for two weeks to basic combat training posts, such as Fort Jackson, to slow the spread of the virus. The extra time allowed training posts to build up testing capabilities while also carrying out basic training and advanced individual training courses in a limited capacity, which has included smaller classes and social distancing.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston also recently traveled to Jackson, as well as Fort Lee, Virginia, to see trainees in action. He said the training was ''still executed to standard.''

Grinston said he was also impressed with how trainees with symptoms of COVID-19 were sent to a separate facility at Fort Jackson so they could be quickly tested away from other trainees.

''They get the results right there on Jackson,'' he said. ''It's an extremely well-done process.'' Before mitigation efforts were in full force, a training battalion at Fort Jackson recorded a handful of positive cases, leaders said. But with the safeguards and additional testing in place since mid-March, the spread of the virus has been contained and training goes on to maintain readiness.

''We need to make sure that our Army is ready to go to war,'' McConville said, ''and we're going to make sure that our Soldiers are ready.''

Testing capabilities for the virus have also been increased across the Army. Initially, the Army had nine medical centers with a large testing capacity, which has since expanded to 35 installations to provide testing locally, Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, the Army's surgeon general, said. And if cases go up, the Army has the ability to send testing capabilities elsewhere, or even use local or state testing sites.

''Right now, in the Army, we do have enough tests,'' Dingle said. ''However, as we test [more people], they're going to have to be replenished.''

Identifying service members who have been asymptomatic with the virus has also been a challenge across the Defense Department. DOD is pursuing different types of diagnostic capabilities, such as serologic testing that can assess a patient's blood for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies.

A man wearing a suit and an Army officer in uniform stand at separate lecterns as they brief reporters who are seated in observance of social distancing guidelines.

''That ability will allow us to consistently test more, so we can identify those individuals,'' Dingle said. ''In the meantime, we must [carry out] the mitigation measures to ensure we protect the forces.''

The Army's medical research community also is working on the development of vaccines as part of the prevention efforts. It is currently testing vaccine prototypes in small animals before selecting a candidate for safe testing in humans this summer, Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy said.

''The Army is fighting the virus on multiple fronts,'' McCarthy said. ''From medical support efforts in our cities to searching for a vaccine in order to stay ready, so we can continue to be the Army the nation deserves.''