Army Asks Soldiers to Delay Retirement to Support Coronavirus Response

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Lt. Col. Carl Skinner reviews procedures with doctors as they simulate care for a COVID-19 patient at Madigan Army Medical Center.
Lt. Col. Carl Skinner, Chief of Emergency Medicine, reviews procedures with doctors as they simulate emergency care for a COVID-19 patient at Madigan Army Medical Center on Wed., April 1, 2020, on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash. (U.S. Army/ John Wayne Liston)

Roughly 27,000 former soldiers have responded to the U.S. Army's call for volunteers, with 6,000 in medical specialties expressing interest in returning to duty since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, service officials said Tuesday.

With the priority focused on the medical community, Maj. Gen. Joseph Calloway, head of U.S. Army Human Resources Command, said the service, with the help of the Army Surgeon General's office, is in the process of vetting about 400 medical professionals who meet Army standards and can be afforded the proper security clearances to deploy to various hot spots across the U.S.

"We will continue to work this, and now we're going beyond medical specialties and vetting that population for additional shortage requirements [across the force]," Calloway told reporters in a phone call.

Related: More Than 25,000 Former Soldiers Have Now Volunteered to Return to Duty

In late March, calls for volunteers went out to those who had served in specialties including critical care officers, anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, critical care nurses, nurse practitioners, emergency room nurses, respiratory specialists and medics.

To date, among those specialties, 15 volunteers are on orders, with another 10 expected to be granted duty status this week, Calloway said.

"We've asked the surgeon general, who has the entire medical landscape, including the operational requirements to get people around the country to support the civilian authorities, where he needs them and when he needs them," added Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, deputy chief of staff.

The officials said the medical personnel will be brought on for a 179-day initial tour, which may be extended or curtailed "based on what their specialty is."

The Army has been working to mobilize hundreds of medical specialists to meet current needs in the fight against COVID-19. For example, military physicians, nurses and medical aides have been sent to relieve overburdened civilian doctors across New York City hospitals in recent weeks, where cases had surged past 136,000 as of Tuesday.

Calloway said others are answering the call other ways -- by delaying their upcoming retirements or asking to extend their time at their current duty station to streamline how the Army is responding to the COVID-19 fight.

Roughly 100 troops have asked for "stabilization requests" at their current bases, Calloway said, adding that the deadline to extend expires May 1.

"We expect that number to grow considerably here in the next 10 days or so," he said.

In addition, "we put out that they could request to either withdraw their retirement or their resignation."

About 250 officers and enlisted members have asked to extend their service beyond their expected separation or retirement, Calloway said.

The general said some outside the medical realm have also reached out to Human Resources Command to offer their services and will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In the midst of the pandemic, the service is also balancing how best to preserve force readiness with other specialties where there may be manning shortages.

"Examples would be those with recent drill sergeant experience, recruiters, aviators,

[military intelligence] or cyber-type specialties. Those are typically the ones we'd look at," he said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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