By Maj. Carter Langston
| 352nd Civil Affairs Command PAO | May 1, 2020
During a routine U.S. Army Reserve battle assembly in 2014, then Lt. Col. Alex Garza briefs Soldiers of the 352nd Civil Affairs Command about the causes, effects and prevention of the Ebola epidemic. Photo credit: Sgt. Erick Yates. (Photo by U.S. Army Reserve)
An Army Reserve surgeon is serving on the front line of COVID-19 response in St. Louis, Missouri. Col. Alex Garza, the command surgeon at 352nd Civil Affairs Command, leads the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and illuminates the value of being “twice the citizen,” which is a term that recognizes those who serve their community in a civilian profession and their nation as a member of the reserve forces.
As the chief medical officer at SSM Health with previous experience as the assistant secretary and chief medical officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009, Dr. Garza was named the incident commander for the task force response effort, which includes the four major health systems in the St. Louis area: BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital.
"We have a very complex problem, and it can really be boiled down to a simple strategy, which is to stop the spread and save lives," Garza said recently during a local press briefing. "That simple strategy is continuing the social isolation, social distancing, washing hands, and keeping surfaces clean. All of those things that we've been talking about."
In his role as command surgeon for the Fort Meade, Maryland-based 352nd Civil Affairs Command, Garza is responsible for monitoring the medical readiness of about 2,000 Soldiers, some of whom are currently serving extended tours around the world and others are serving on airborne status, which requires additional medical screening.
As incident commander of the task force, Garza’s concept of a unified approach may look familiar to those serving in the nation’s military forces and those familiar with the National Response Framework.
"We quickly came to realize," Garza said during the task force's introductory press conference, "that we needed a unified approach if we were going to get through this pandemic successfully. We realized this was the best way to address all of our needs, whether that's personal protective equipment or facilities or ventilators, all of those different things."
He explained that area hospitals would cooperate, sharing information and resources to ensure the availability of critical supplies and capabilities, because “it does us no good of one healthcare system fails while others still have personal protective equipment and ventilators.” In one recent press briefing, Garza reiterated the necessity to shelter-in-place because the worst-case scenario exceeds medical capacity and is the reason information sharing is so important.
In recent videos distributed through each command, Chief of the Army Reserve and Commanding General of U.S. Army Reserve Command Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey urged all U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers to follow the guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and authorized virtual battle assemblies.