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DOD COVID-19 response continues military history of aiding civilians

BY David Vergun


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, active duty military, reserve and National Guard service members are responding in various ways, from providing medical support and logistics to transportation and food delivery.

This isn’t the first time the Defense Department has assisted civil authorities in the United States.

MILITARY GUARDING MAIL: The military called in Marines to guard US Mail deliveries. (Special to Branson Globe)

In the early 1920s, President Warren G. Harding ordered the Marines to protect mail delivery service after millions of dollars were stolen in a rash of mail robberies. Armed Marines guarded mail trucks and trains throughout the United States, with orders to shoot if necessary. Robberies of the mail completely stopped. However, by the mid-1920s, the Marines had withdrawn from this duty and robberies again became frequent. So the Marines were sent in. Robberies ceased, and when they later withdrew, mail robberies were no problem.

One of the most destructive floods in the United States was the Great Mississippi Flood of 1926 and 1927. About 500 people lost their lives and more than 700,000 became homeless. As a result, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build levees along the river.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, causing massive flooding in those and several other states, including New Orleans, which was especially hard-hit. About 1,200 people died as a result of the flooding and millions were left homeless.

The Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, active duty service members, guardsmen and reservists were called on to help with rescue, recovery, cleanup efforts and rebuilding.

The blizzard of 1978, which raged from Jan. 26 to Feb. 7, was one of the worst snowstorms to hit Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and all of New England, with record snowfalls throughout the region. About 100 people were killed. Weather forecasting at the time was spotty, and many motorists got stranded. The National Guard used helicopters and tactical vehicles to rescue those stranded and manned emergency centers.

The Defense Department, as well as other government agencies and civilian companies, have increasingly come under attack from Russia, China, terrorists and criminals, both to disrupt service as well as steal intellectual property. In 2018, DOD issued its U.S. National Cyber Strategy, which includes protecting the American people and businesses by safeguarding networks and data and strengthening the ability of the United States allies and partners to deter and punish those who use cyber maliciously.

NATIONAL GUARD MASKS: Several Pennsylvania Army National Guard Soldiers with the Combined Maintenance Support Shop-East produce cloth face masks. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Zane Craig)

DOD has also been tasked with monitoring and ensuring secure elections.

Those are just a few of the many examples of the department protecting the homeland. Others include fighting wildfires and providing security at major events such as the Super Bowl.

The Defense Department is working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department to provide support in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

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