Senior leadership across the Navy Reserve Force and Bureau of Medicine and Surgery used the current COVID-19 climate to prove the feasibility and expedience of activating Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) Sailors to Navy Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) in direct response to special authorities granted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presidential Executive Order 13912 gave the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security the authority to activate National Guard and reservists to support the nationwide response to the coronavirus.
In addition to the 1,600 Selected Reserve Sailors deployed globally to fight COVID-19, the Reserve force activated a small number of volunteer-IRR Sailors in order to observe the process for recalling IRR medical Sailors in a time of crisis, and provide several hospital corpsmen the opportunity to put their uniforms on again.
“The IRR can provide skilled and talented Sailors, many of whom have been recently released from active duty,” said Navy Reserve Force Surgeon, Capt. Brian Bowes. “Their Navy rating skills, combined with their civilian skills provide uniquely well rounded and seasoned Sailors that can be activated in times of national crisis.”
Norfolk was ultimately the target area for activated IRR Sailors, using local Sailors not already engaged in COVID-19 response efforts to be assigned to NMCP Directorate for Nursing Services.
“PERS-9 leadership conducted several meetings via teleconference to develop concept of operations with Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Norfolk, Navy Region Southeast Reserve Component (RCC) Norfolk, and Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command staff to ensure all administrative, logistical and medical screening requirements would be met for the selected IRR Sailors,” said Bowes.
PERS-9 covers the offices of Reserve Officer, Enlisted and IRR administration, Reserve retirements, and Physical Risk administration.
After notification of selection, five IRR Sailors reported to NMCP.
“I received a mass email asking for willing and qualified Sailors to go work at NMCP,” said Hospitalman Austin Waters, a native of Boise, Idaho and prior active duty Sailor. “Right now, I have two-month orders, but they might get extended and I wouldn’t mind that at all.”
The IRR is composed of the Active Status Pool (ASP) and the Volunteer Training Unit (VTU).
The ASP is a manpower pool consisting of individuals, like Waters, who have previously served in the active component or in the Selected Reserves (SELRES) and now serve in a non-pay, non-drill status. The VTU consists of personnel, organized into units, who serve in a non-pay, drill requirement status.
Senior leadership is using this activation process, as it does consistently with all processes, as a tool to be reviewed towards efforts of optimizing resources in the future.
“Lessons learned will ultimately provide Navy leadership with a more seamless and transparent process for activating IRR personnel, said Bowes.
“Our IRR personnel are invaluable when called upon,” said Chief Hospital Corpsman Marcus B. Garcia, assigned to Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command. “Seventy-five percent of the people that served in WWII were reservists. The IRR is an extension of that aim. When the nation calls, we answer.”
The IRR Sailors activated at NMCP have not only received another chance to serve, but have also gained valuable training for their civilian careers.
“Just so happens that all of us are in school for some aspect of the medical profession,” said Waters. “Being here is a great opportunity to take advantage of training and desired qualifications.”