United We Stand: the COVID-19 pandemic in NYC
27 Apr 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, New York City (NYC) took a hard hit. In need of relief, the city turned to the United States Military for support.

Marines with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (3/2), 2d Marine Division (2d MARDIV) arrived in NYC to support the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) in Manhattan, New York, March 30, 2020.

The Marines worked diligently to provide security for the hospital ship USNS Comfort, which originally deployed to treat New York City’s non-COVID-19 patients, but then adjusted its facilities to treat COVID-19 patients as more help was requested. With the added pressure of protecting COVID-19 patients while keeping the ship functioning, Lima Company partnered with the New York Police Department (NYPD) to deliver a joint relief effort.

“Everyone is contributing in different ways,” said Cpl. Jose Palacios, an Atlanta, GA native and team leader with Lima Company, 3/2, 2d MARDIV. “The Navy is on ship doing the medical aspect and the police force and Marines are providing security for the ship. So, all of us are working in conjunction with each other to provide different jobs and it is helping things run more effectively.”

The Marines aid in the security of the ship, guarding vehicle control points, screening personnel for access, temperature, and symptoms of COVID-19, ultimately safeguarding the ship, personnel, and patients aboard the Comfort from the increased risk of potential spread of COVID-19. The policemen provide force protection for the Marines, using armed guards and working dogs that sniff out potential explosive devices, limiting potential threats towards the ship and the personnel on board.

Although the Marines and NYPD take on different supporting roles, they work very closely to keep a united front.

“We’re facing a complex problem, and not one of us, whether you are a heavy weapons sergeant with NYPD or you are a doctor, is going to solve this on our own,” said Sgt. Matthew Woods, a heavy weapons sergeant with the Critical Response Command in the Counterterrorism Bureau of the NYPD. “We have to break the problem into smaller pieces and each one of us is doing their small part. We have to do this as a team to try to alleviate the problem.”

With tensions high and spirits low among the local population, the men and women serving the USNS Comfort understand the effect their duty towards supporting ship has on livelihood of NYC. Protecting the city from a global pandemic is not a small task to accomplish, but they prove day and night that they are ready to serve where needed.

“We are all here for the same mission, and that is to help as many people as possible during this pandemic,” said Cpl. Palacios. “The morale and mentality is negative right now due the number of deaths but I think it is starting to look up. I think when people see us here and see the ship here, it symbolizes hope.”

While the USNS Comfort plans their departure, the Marines of Lima Company and the NYPD continue the fight towards protecting society and civilization.

“My condolences to who have lost family members, employees that they work with, a loving friend, my condolences go out to them,” said policeman John Etienne, a dog handler with the Critical Response Command K-9 in the Counterterrorism Bureau of the NYPD. “I’m hoping that we can heal from this and we can continue because I don’t want us to dwell in the negative, we have to look towards the future.”