National Security

U.S. Public Health Service deploys disciplined professionals to combat coronavirus

Met them when I was with the Red Cross in Louisiana during Katrina.

Image Credit: USPHS.gov

Being an Army vet, but the son of a naval officer, I know what swabo uniforms look like. Also, when you see a group of officers running around, you usually see enlisted personnel in their wake. However, looking across the aisle in an abandoned Walmart in the Cortana section of Baton Rouge in September 2005, I saw a bunch of what appeared to be naval officers and no enlisted people.

I was working, my first assignment there, with the Red Cross on the Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort. The operation was labeled DRO 865 to the Red Cross. It was a week after the storm hit. Most of us, especially including FEMA staff, were running around haphazardly trying to come up with a plan to deal with the mess. Not those people across the aisle. They seemed calm and efficient. Finally, mostly out of curiosity, I went over and asked what part of the Navy they belonged to. Some guy, barely looking up from his computer, said, “We’re not Navy. We’re the U.S. Public Health Service.”

I eloquently responded, “The who? And where are your enlisted guys?”

He elaborated: “The people who deal with public health in natural disasters, epidemics, pandemics, that kind of thing. And we’re all commissioned.”

“Cool,” I said, maturely thinking of the movie “Outbreak” and how cute Rene Russo was in it. But then I remembered, in the film they were Army.

“How do you guys have all your sh** together so fast?” I dumbly asked.

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“We just took out our op plans for nuclear war and scratched that out and put in ‘massive hurricane’. Changed other stuff on the fly.” Whoa. Even cooler.

The guy went back to work and nodded in acknowledgment of my queries. As I dealt with various issues on my side of the house, I watched the USPHS at work.

They made no false promises like FEMA. Everyone had a specific mission —unlike Red Cross— and they were all work. Looking at them standing with the president and vice-president on Sunday, I see that same look in their eyes I saw in Baton Rouge. I’m glad it’s still there and gladder still that they are on the case.

David Kamioner
meet the author

David Kamioner is a veteran of U.S. Army Intelligence and an honors graduate of the University of Maryland's European Division. He also served with the Pershing Nuclear Brigade and the First Infantry Division. Subsequent to that he worked for two decades as a political consultant, was part of the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort in Louisiana, ran a homeless shelter for veterans in Philadelphia, and taught as a college instructor. He serves as a Contributing Editor for LifeZette.

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