Fight against COVID-19 is fresh take on an old mission, Pentagon chiefs say

Defense leaders addressed the troops and their families during virtual town hall meeting

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper (L), General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, 2019
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Last Updated:
March 24, 2020 - 7:20pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The military’s battle against coronavirus is a new take on an old mission, America’s defense chiefs said today.

“This is not the first challenge the U.S. has faced,” U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday afternoon. “This is not the first war.” This time, he said, the enemy is not flesh and blood but is a virus.

Milley made his remarks during a live-streamed “virtual town hall” for service members, their families, and civilian workers and contractors. The meeting was held in order to apprise the military community of what the pandemic means for them. Milley was joined on the panel by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ramon “CZ” Colon-Lopez.

The same resilience that has brought the nation and its military through traditional wars will come into play now, the defense chiefs said.

“This is a difficult time for our nation,” Milley said, but he is “fully confident we will come through this.”

The Pentagon remains focused on national defense, Esper said, which means having a healthy force.

“I’ve made protecting our people our top priority,” Esper said. “Take care of one another, and we will all get through this.” 

In response to a question on how long the pandemic would last, Milley responded bluntly.

“Nobody really knows,” Milley said. “We’ll get through it.”

“We’ll be back on the old OPTEMPO again,” Esper said. “Be patient. We’ll all be well, if not better at the end of the day.”