NEWS | March 2, 2021

U.S. Army, South Korea Alliance Strengthens During COVID-19 Vaccine Operations

By Inkyeong Yun USAF

WASHINGTON -- Hard times always reveal true friends, and it will also show what a strong alliance looks like. From the beginning of the COVID-19 global pandemic, U.S. Forces Korea has been working with local national agencies and organizations in South Korea to form a united front in the fight against the disease. As one of the largest medical assets in USFK, the 549th Hospital Center and Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital have been pivotal to the South Korea-U.S. COVID-19 response.

Since USFK received the COVID-19 vaccine and started inoculating service members , the 549th HC/BDAACH has been sharing practical knowledge and experience with the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency and South Korea's army.

On Jan. 29, the 549th HC/BDAACH hosted the KDCA's international affairs team for a tour of key COVID-19 facilities. The team was able to see the reception center, isolation facility, laboratory, negative pressure room and the COVID-19 vaccination center. BDAACH shared information on COVID-19 testing capabilities, management and treatment of positive COVID-19 cases, and the on-going vaccination effort.

The exchange of knowledge and experience was also extended to South Korea's military. On Feb. 2, the 549th HC/BDAACH commander and leadership attended a virtual conference with the South Korean army's surgeon general and Armed Forces Medical Center staff to discuss the COVID-19 vaccination.

During the conference, U.S. Army Col. Huy Q. Luu, the 549th HC/BDAACH commander, shared the organization's vaccination processes, challenges and insights; the South Korean army's medical command shared its plan for future vaccination efforts. Key planning factors and lessons learned were also exchanged to ensure the mission's success.

Following the conference, Luu hosted South Korean army Brig. Gen. Beom-man Ha, the surgeon general, and the South Korean Armed Forces Medical Command's team for a tour of the hospital's COVID-19 vaccine operations and visited the COVID-19 vaccination center.

Luu also emphasized the unique opportunity for South Korean army nurses, as part of the Integrated Service of Republic of Korea Military Health Care Personnel Program, to develop expertise they can use.

For 66 years, South Korean army nurses have rotated every six months with BDAACH to share in medical training. The ISRMHCPP was established in 1955 to facilitate wartime coordination between the U.S. and South Korea military health care support system. This year, the South Korea nurses are actively involved in the 549th HC/BDAACH's COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts.

''COVID-19 has been bringing constant challenges, but it also opened up an opportunity for us to collaborate and connect with our host nation, Republic of Korea [South Korea], on many ways that we haven't before,'' Luu said. ''We will continue to exchange our knowledge and experience on the fight against the COVID-19 mitigation including the vaccine operations.''

The 549th HC/BDAACH in U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys has been selected by the Defense Department as one of the initial vaccination sites to validate distribution, administration and reporting processes for the new vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine team initiated inoculations on Dec. 29 and has been rolling out the vaccine in phases following the USFK priority group scheme. The task force has been sending Tiger teams to outlying locations — including U.S. Army Garrison Casey, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, U.S. Army Garrison Daegu and Chinhae Naval Base — to provide vaccinations to eligible USFK personnel. Recently, the main vaccination team expanded its services and opened a COVID-19 vaccination center at USAG-Humphreys to help promote maximum vaccination.