President Donald Trump issued an order Friday night that permits the Pentagon to bring back to active duty some veterans and reserve members of the military to augment forces already involved in the response to the coronavirus pandemic, senior U.S. officials said.
The president said Friday night that the decision will “allow us to mobilize medical, disaster and emergency response personnel to help wage our battle against the virus by activating thousands of experienced service members, including retirees.”
The president did not clarify whether anyone will be involuntarily recalled to duty but said some retirees have “offered to support the nation in this extraordinary time of need.”
“It’s really an incredible thing to see,” Trump said, speaking at the White House. “It’s beautiful.”
An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Ortiz-Cruz, said some 15,000 veterans have expressed interest in rejoining the service to help the military’s response to the pandemic.
But a U.S. military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, would not rule out that involuntary recalls also are possible.
“That’s to be determined based on requirements,” the official said.
Trump’s executive order allows Defense Secretary Mark Esper to order units and individual members to duty, including “certain Individual Ready Reserve” members, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said in a statement. The Individual Ready Reserve comprises retired active-duty and reserve service members, who are commonly considered out of the military and rarely recalled.
Hoffman said decisions about which people may be activated are still being reviewed.
“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.
The spokesman said on Saturday evening that it is difficult to project how many additional service members are needed. “But this step gives us the authority to rapidly activate persons if it becomes necessary,” he said.
Hoffman said each service is working to identify what skill sets they need. He said the Pentagon has “seen interest in voluntary support” for the coronavirus response but also did not rule out the possibility of involuntary recalls.
“We do not have any indications as to whether inactive call-ups would be necessary,” he 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.
The executive order released by the White House states that anyone recalled can remain on active duty for up to 24 months straight.
Separately, the Army announced Saturday that it will deploy another 800 reservists and guardsmen to join the pandemic response. The forces will provide medical, planning, communication, transportation and logistics support, the service said.
Those forces will join 1,100 active-duty personnel that the Army announced earlier this week it would deploy to several locations across the country, and at least 12,300 National Guardsmen who have been activated to assist.
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 Seamands, the Army’s deputy chief of staff.