Military personnel deploy to Texas, California to help medical facilities battle coronavirus

In a July 10, 2020 photo, U.S Army critical care nurses 1st Lt. Charles Gilcrist, 1st Lt. Lauryn Hudgins and 1st Lt. Colton Whitehouse from Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force - 627 work to provide medical care to a COVID-19 patient alongside Baptist Hospital medical staff, in San Antonio, Texas.


By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 13, 2020

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas and California will receive about 740 military medical and support personnel as part of ongoing coronavirus operations as the number of infected people in those states continues to climb, U.S. Army North announced Monday.

Troops from the Army, Navy and Air Force were sent Monday at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state officials and will primarily help civilian medical staff in their facilities.

"We are committed to assisting those in need as part of the ongoing whole-of-America response to [coronavirus]," said Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, which will oversee operations. "At the same time, we remain flexible and capable of providing other defense support to civil authorities as necessary."

Texas will receive the bulk of the support, about 580 military medical and support personnel from the Army and Navy, which will be focused on Houston and San Antonio, according to the news release.

The state reported 5,655 new coronavirus cases Monday and has seen more than 264,000 positive cases total since the pandemic began, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. A reported 3,235 people in Texas have died from the virus.

About 160 military medical and support personnel from the Air Force will deploy to California to support FEMA and the state, where 8,460 new cases of coronavirus were reported Sunday, according to the California Department of Public Health. The state now has a total of 320,804 positive cases and a total of 7,017 deaths.

Texas’s first troops, an 85-member enhanced Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force from the 627th Hospital Center, Fort Carson, Colo., arrived in San Antonio on July 6 and began treating patients at five San Antonio area hospitals three days later. Its soldiers come from several locations, including Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday that a second 85-member team will arrive Monday in Houston.

"Texas is grateful to the U.S. Department of Defense for providing these additional resources to Houston and San Antonio as we work to slow the spread of [coronavirus] and care for our fellow Texans," Abbott said in a statement. "We will continue to work with our local and federal partners to help ensure that all medical needs are met in Houston, San Antonio, and throughout the state."

Four more 85-person Army teams, along with a 44-person Acute Care Team and four, seven-person Rapid Rural Response Teams from the Navy were also activated for statewide efforts in Texas.

"It's an honor to be in San Antonio, Texas, providing care to patients alongside local hospital staff," said Army Capt. Sarah Kopaciewicz, a critical care nurse embedded with Christus Westover Hills Medical Center. "I was doing similar work, treating [coronavirus] patients, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State before being employed here."

In addition to Christus Westover Hills Medical Center, critical care nurses, emergency room nurses, medical surgical nurses, and respiratory specialists from the 627th Hospital Center are serving at Baptist Health Center, Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center, Methodist Metropolitan and University Hospital.

"Our soldiers train daily to maintain clinical skills so we can save and sustain lives wherever and whenever the nation calls," said Army Lt. Col. Jason Hughes, commander of the 627th’s team in San Antonio. "We're proud to be here to support FEMA and Texas, and will work side by side with hospital workers to help communities as long as we are needed."

Twitter: @Rose_Lori