The Rules of Engagement for U.S. Military in Emergencies or Medical Crises

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April 30, 2021

By Stephanie Schorow for the Global Mass Vaccination Site Collaborative

How do U.S. military personnel — soldiers, sailors, and others — end up in a community to help out with situations like mass vaccinations? The April 30 virtual meeting answered this question by focusing on the deliberate process and operating principles used by the military to determine when and how to deploy personnel in state or local emergencies. Presenting were Major General Jeffrey P. “Jeff” Van, Commander, Joint Task Force Civil Support, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia and Captain Dirk A. Warren, M.D., the Surgeon General of Joint Task Force Civil Support. Dr. Warren outlined the overview of how the Department of Defense provides Defense Support to Civil Authorities:

  • The President or the Secretary of Defense must authorize the support.
  • It mitigates the effects of a disaster or catastrophe (manmade, natural, or terrorist).
  • It provides temporary essential services at home or abroad.
  • Department of Defense always operates in support of the Lead Federal Agency.

The chain of command may appear complicated; however, the goal is to ensure coordination between the Department of Defense and local, state and federal authorities.

When asked about the timeframe of response, Dr. Warren said it is usually about a week but can be expedited, particularly with commanders who have immediate response authority and can take immediate action if they believe they can save lives or mitigate property loss after a disaster has been declared. Commander Van noted that “we can move within hours” if a need is anticipated.

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. Military is prepared and ready to lend aid. The Department of Defense follows set protocols to ensure that military personnel always coordinate with civilian authorities.

The Global Mass Vaccination Site Collaborative was launched as a way for stakeholders directing vaccination campaigns around the world to come together and learn from each other’s efforts. This blog series was created to record and share the learning and insights gained from this collaboration. Read blogs from our previous meetings here.