- - Tuesday, March 31, 2020

It’s no coincidence that the nation is calling upon its brave service members in its hour of need.

As land-based hospitals continue to fill up with novel coronavirus patients, President Trump has deployed two Navy hospital ships to care for non-COVID-19 patients in some of the hardest-hit cities in the country. 

The USNS Comfort, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, has arrived in New York City, and the USNS Mercy, based in San Diego, is in Los Angeles. Each ship will have space for 1,000 patients and nearly 1,300 embarked medical personnel.

The deployment of these two ships is monumental, alleviating the pressure on over-stretched hospital resources and protecting vulnerable patients from the risk of coronavirus infection. These floating hospitals have deployed in the past to New Orleans in support of Hurricane Katrina response efforts, to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and have gone on numerous goodwill tours through Central and South America, providing medical and veterinary services.

These two well-equipped ships are well-suited for their latest mission — each has 12 operating rooms, two oxygen-producing plants, an optometry lab, a pharmacy and more. This unmatched afloat capability maximizes the ability to care for patients with a wide range of ailments, providing relief to over-burdened hospitals on land. 

While some people have expressed concern that the ships will not be directly used for COVID-19 patients, the logic for this is quite sound. Even with the best technology, ships are inherently confined spaces, making them susceptible to the rapid spread of diseases as highly contagious as the novel coronavirus. Moreover, as coronavirus testing becomes less complex and more widely available, we can effectively screen out patients who test positive or have been exposed, dramatically reducing the risk of “cruise-ship casualties.”

President Trump has indicated that he intends to use the full extent of the military’s capabilities to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. The deployments of the Mercy and the Comfort come on the heels of his direction that the Army Corps of Engineers build temporary hospitals in New York to further ease the burden on civilian hospitals. 

It’s not just active-duty service members who will be pitching in, either. Many of the medical staff on the Navy hospital ships as well as Corps of Engineers construction teams will include reservists, and the federal government is picking up the tab for deploying the National Guard in Washington, California and New York. 

The risks these active, reserve and guard patriots will face will be no less than the risks faced by our troops on the field of battle. They too will display dedicated service, sacrifice and gallantry. 

It is important to acknowledge the courageous men and women of the U.S. military, who constantly put their lives at risk for American civilians — whether at war or during national emergencies such as this pandemic. These individuals have no agenda other than love for their country and a commitment to uphold the U.S. Constitution, promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense of the nation.

They’re not looking for plaudits, but a bit of recognition for our men and women in uniform — active, reserve and guard — can still go a long way toward letting them know that we appreciate their contributions to our safety and liberty. 

We are fortunate that our commander in chief has spent the past three years strengthening the armed forces in preparation for the moment their resources and expertise would be needed. That moment has arrived, and our nation’s military is fully prepared to step in.

Without our dedicated men and women in uniform, battling this invisible enemy would be far more difficult — and far more deadly. 

• Don Loren, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Security Integration and as an assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs.

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