President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday afternoon that could potentially lead to former active duty military members being recalled into service to help with the government’s coronavirus response.
“This will allow to us mobilize medical disaster and emergency response personnel to help wage our battle against the virus by activating thousands of experienced service members including retirees,” Trump told reporters Friday.
The order grants the Defense secretary the authority to order up members, but as of now there is no indication of that happening. Such a call is usually used when the military is in need of specific skill sets.
“Decisions about which individuals may be activated are still being reviewed. Generally, these members will be persons in Headquarters units and persons with high demand medical capabilities whose call-up would not adversely affect their civilian communities,” Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said in a statement late Friday.
“This is a dynamic situation, we do not currently have a projected number of expected activations, but the Department is now fully authorized to make activations as needed,” Hoffman said.
In most cases, after concluding their military obligations, service members will enter into what is known as the Individual Ready Reserve.
At present the Individual Ready Reserve contains 224,841 members, according to the Department of Defense, and nearly 11,000 of those members “have medical capabilities.”
The ready reserve status requires no active participation, leading the vast majority of service members to consider being in that status the same as being out of the military. Most service members are in that designation for a period of years.
There have been a handful of cases in the past where members of this reserve have been called up for active duty – such as during the height of both Iraq wars.
Trump said Friday that “we have a lot of people, retirees. Great, great military people. They’re coming back in, who have offered to support the nation in this extraordinary time of need.”
“And they come back in. They don’t say, ‘How much?’ They don’t say, ‘What are we getting paid?’ They just want to come back in. It’s really an incredible thing to see. It’s beautiful,” he added.
The US Army also reached out this week to retired medical personnel to possibly volunteer to support the coronavirus response effort. In an email obtained by CNN, the Army called upon retired personnel on Wednesday looking for “voluntary recall of retired soldiers” with specific medical specialties.
An Army spokesman had told CNN that they’re “gauging the availability and capabilities of our retired career medical personnel to potentially assist with COVID-19 pandemic response efforts if needed.”
The spokesman made clear the Army does not want to interfere in any civilian medical needs, adding that “this information request will no way interfere with any care they may be providing to their communities; it is for future planning purposes only, and is completely voluntary.”
More than 800,000 retired soldiers received the notification to gauge their willingness to assist with the Covid-19 pandemic response, the Army said in a statement Thursday, adding that “to date, more than 9,000” have expressed interest.
“The initial response has been very positive,” the statement said.
This story has been updated with additional background information.
CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.