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Air Force Surgeon General briefs House members on COVID-19 response, future of Air Force medicine

Graphic with text and an image of an Airman.

Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, Air Force and Space Force Surgeon General, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, May 25, 2021. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force Surgeon General, testified Tuesday, May 25, before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense at a hearing on Defense Health and Medical Readiness.

Hogg’s testimony focused on the critical role the Air Force Medical Service has played over the past year in the COVID-19 response. Specifically, she showcased how medical Airmen quickly adjusted to new safety measures, innovated to meet the nation’s needs, and deployed where they were needed.

“Over the past year, our Airmen have been involved in every aspect of the COVID-19 response,” said Hogg. “From the early days of the initial public health emergency response, to supporting the whole-of-government vaccination efforts, Air Force medics showed their ability to innovate.

“When COVID-19 epicenters in New York, California, Texas and North Dakota were facing critical staffing shortages, we acted quickly, [embedding] critical care strike teams directly into civilian facilities.”

Air Force medics have also aided in COVID-19 vaccine administration. More than 1,000 Air Force medics have been deployed to vaccination sites across the country. To date, these medics have administered more than one million vaccines. Additionally, the Air Force’s aeromedical evacuation capabilities rapidly updated to move more COVID-19 patients at once with the deployment of the Negatively Pressurized Conex. As of May 24, the Air Force Medical Service has completed 101 aeromedical evacuation missions and transported 372 COVID-19 patients, said Hogg.

Hogg also provided updates on the multiple transformation and transition efforts, which have continued despite the COVID-19 pandemic. She stated the AFMS remains committed to the successful transition of military treatment facilities to the Defense Health Agency. At the end of her oral statement, Hogg said the Air Force is postured and ready for future readiness requirements, and recognized the dedication of Air Force medics.

“This pandemic brought unprecedented challenges, but it also provided opportunities to accelerate change or lose, to become more agile, resilient and capable to face the unknown,” said Hogg. “This is what we train for. We remain ready for the fight as we evolve to face the next major threat. It has been an honor to serve alongside extraordinary medical professionals on the joint team.”

Subcommittee members then had an opportunity to ask witnesses questions, which centered on lessons learned from the pandemic, and how the services are ensuring service members remain operationally ready despite COVID-19 shifting their focus.

Hogg said the AFMS remains committed to preparing its members and capabilities for contingencies, including building up ground surgical teams and increasing the number of critical care air transport teams.

“We are looking at what the near-peer fight will look like and tailoring our services to that,” said Hogg. “We definitely are ready for the next fight.”

Hogg was also asked about human performance optimization and what the AFMS is doing to mitigate musculoskeletal injuries among its members.

“In the Air Force, we see ourselves as the maintainers of the human weapons system, so human performance is incredibly important and we need to go where the Airmen are… and that is to their worksite,” said Hogg. “We have instituted integrating operational support teams that go out into the units to evaluate what [Airmen] are doing, how they’re executing their mission, and what we can do to prevent injury. We… know that musculoskeletal injuries are the number one cause for service members to not be ready to do the mission. So, [we embed] physical therapists [and] athletic trainers right into the unit, so members become comfortable seeing, talking to, and addressing their issues.”

Hogg stated this was her final time testifying before the Subcommittee as she will be retiring after 37 years of active duty service. Chairwoman Betty McCollum, a representative from Minnesota’s Fourth District, concluded the hearing by thanking Hogg for her dedicated service.

“To [Lt. Gen.] Hogg, we just wish you the best in retirement,” said McCollum. “We thank you for your service. Your expertise will be missed. We hope you stay in touch and you find another way to put all your expertise to work for all of us here in the United States.”

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