President Donald Trump issued an order Friday night that permits the Pentagon to bring former U.S. troops and members of the National Guard and Reserve back to active duty to augment forces already involved in the U.S. military’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, senior U.S. officials said.
Trump signed an executive order that allows Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper to order units and individual members “and certain Individual Ready Reserve” members, Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said in a statement released just after midnight Saturday morning. The Individual Ready Reserve comprises former active-duty and reserve service members, who are commonly considered out of the military and rarely recalled.
Hoffman, who could not be reached for comment early Saturday, said decisions about which people may be activated are still being reviewed. The statement did not address whether anyone will be involuntarily recalled.
“Generally, these members will be persons in Headquarters units and persons with high demand medical capabilities whose call-up would not adversely affect their civilian communities,” Hoffman’s statement said.
Before relying on any National Guard Reserve forces, Esper and the Department of Health and Human Services will consult with state officials, Hoffman added. Governors have control of their own National Guard forces in most cases.
“As this is a dynamic situation, we do not currently have a projected number of expected activations, but the Department is now fully authorized to make activations as needed,” Hoffman said. “We will provide updates as they become available.”
The executive order, released by the White House, states that anyone recalled can remain on active duty for up to 24 months straight.
The Pentagon already has dispatched its two Navy hospital ships, the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy, to New York and Los Angeles, respectively, and deployed Army hospital units to other locations. The hospital ships are heavily staffed with military reservists.
Earlier this week, the Army sent a message to some veterans who served in medical fields to ask whether they would be interested in serving in the coronavirus response. Service officials were interested in people who previously served in eight jobs: critical care officer, anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetist, critical care nurse, nurse practitioner, emergency-room nurse, respiratory specialist and medic.
“When the Nation called – you answered, and now, that call may come again,” wrote Lt. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands.