A lot of Marines live by a maxim that is sometimes referred to as The Five P’s, which fully stated are: “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”
That holds true for most things in life, whether you’re trying to hit the target on the rifle range, or preparing for a possible pandemic in the local community.
Drudge unearthed this interesting item from the Jacksonville (NC) Daily News, which covers Camp Lejeune and the surrounding region:
According to staff writer Adelina Colbert, personnel at Marine Corps Air Station New River (which is only 12 miles from Lejeune) held its first-ever pandemic drill yesterday. As she reports:
“Marine Corps Air Station New River on Wednesday held a full-scale pandemic outbreak drill where health officials and Marines responded to a smallpox outbreak that “occurred” aboard the installation.
According to Lt. Joseph Kotora, the public health emergency officer for Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, the Exercise Vigilant Response drill was the first of its kind at a military installation in North Carolina.
“The drills are usually conducted annually or semi-annually,” said Kotora. “A drill this size has never been conducted, so this is the largest pandemic exercise to my knowledge.”
Officials decided to incorporate administering inoculations during the exercise so that it would more accurately portray an outbreak situation where medical personnel would be required to screen and administer vaccinations.”
“This is a simulated exercise designed to test our capabilities and respond to a pandemic or biological threat,” he said. “ … We’re trying to identify some areas where we can improve and we’re also trying to foster some confidence in the population that we serve … that we can respond effectively to a mass terror or a weapon of mass destruction incident.”
Lt Col Aaron Adams, the executive officer for MCAS New River quickly pointed out that the exercise had been in the planning stages for nine months, and was not staged in response to the current Ebola outbreak. Marines participating in the drill received flu shots, and base officials noted that influenza is a problem faced by military personnel wherever they deploy.
We’ll take Lt Col Adams at his word, but the timing of the exercise was rather curious, to say the least. Equally interesting was Lt Kotora’s observation about a “mass terror or weapon of mass destruction incident.” As someone who scripted a “bio-threat” exercise 15 years ago, I can tell you that it’s generally a bad idea to invite the media, and publicly link it to a mass casualty event, real or imagined. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lieutenant got a little “counseling” today from his superiors, for simply speaking the truth.
Fact is, Ebola is very much on the military’s radar, and not simply because of the misguided deployment of 4,000 troops to West Africa. While commanders are acutely aware that personnel deploying to the hot zone could be exposed to the deadly disease, return to home station and transmit it to others, they also understand that terrorists could send infected individuals into the local military community, triggering a pandemic.
There’s also the possibility of a mass migration across our southern border, in response to an Ebola outbreak in Central America, a scenario outlined earlier this week by Marine General John Kelly, who leads U.S. Southern Command.
And, if you want to take things to the extreme, imagine the breakdown of U.S. society under the stress of a full-scale pandemic. Food would disappear from store shelves in a matter of days–with few new deliveries. Public services would begin to erode; what if no one shows up to run the local water or sewage plant, or keep the turbines humming at the power station that supplies your electricity. Imagine cops patrolling in HAZMAT suits (if they’re available for duty), and a health system stretched to the breaking point by the sick and dying.
While officials insist the nightmare scenario is unlikely (at least, that’s what they tell us), the Marines, along with the rest of our military, must be prepared for such contingencies. Preparations for the drill at MCAS New River may have begun months in advance, but it’s evident that current events moved it from the planning to the execution stage.