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The Spanish Armed Forces’ key contribution to the all-out war against COVID-19

The Spanish Armed Forces are directly involved from the very beginning in total biological warfare against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The military contribution to defeat the lethal viral infection is made for a very simple reason.

When health and social services, the food supply chain, critical land, air or sea infrastructures are under threat or on the verge of collapse, the Armed Forces are the last collective insurance available to the State to guarantee the survival and dignified living conditions of the Spanish people.

With the sole presence of the military in the streets of cities and towns in our national territory, as well as in airports, railway and port stations, hospitals, health centres, residences to carry out disinfection tasks or collaborate in surveillance and support missions for the Local Police, Civil Guard and National Police, our compatriots perceive that the fight against the coronavirus is very serious. They also visualize that the different military units and their logistic services are organized and trained not only to fight but also to provide immediate help and relief to the civilian population.

The vanguard of the military action in the total war against the implacable coronavirus that plagues the Spanish population is the Emergency Military Unit (EMU), which on the same afternoon of Sunday, 15 March, when the state of alarm was officially activated, deployed its first thousand troops in Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, León, Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the seven cities closest to where the EMU Emergency Intervention Battalions are stationed.

Under the direction of the Chief of Defence Staff (CHOD), Air General Miguel Ángel Villarroya, the Commander-in-Chief of the Operations Command (MOPS), Lieutenant General of the Spanish Army Fernando López Del Pozo has activated Operation Balmis – in homage to the military doctor from Alicante (1753-1819) who brought the smallpox vaccine to the Philippines and Spanish America – and assumes direct command of all operational capabilities, and infrastructure of the EMU, the General Health Inspectorate (IGESAN) and the military operational units of the Armies and Navy.

The number of populations and troops has been progressively increased so that on Thursday, March 19, a total of 2. 662 military of the UME, the Marine Infantry, the Legion and other units of the Army and Air Force were already deployed in 59 towns, both in the main provincial capitals and in smaller towns such as Alcázar de San Juan, Astorga, Avilés, Benidorm, Cariñena, Don Benito, Laredo, Linares, Leganés, Manacor, Mérida, Zafra…

From hospitals to mobile bakeries

But how can military units assist the civilian population in cases of extreme health severity?

The Spanish Armed Forces have an extensive staff of specialist doctors, nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians and psychologists, along with tens of thousands of military personnel from land, sea and air. Most of them have carried out missions and have risked their lives in conflict scenarios outside our borders, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Gabon, Lebanon, Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, Senegal and many others.

The military organization has specialized units in biological warfare with special equipment to deal with highly lethal pathogens. It has hospitals, ambulances and medical equipment and is able to provide equipment to set up camps quickly, hundreds of portable kitchens for hot food, baking machines, laundry facilities and mobile showers for communities and has stored for immediate distribution hundreds of thousands of varied food rations for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In addition, there are dozens of electricity generators and power generators, water and fuel tankers, thousands of transport vehicles of all types, sizes and tonnages, mobile satellite communications and countless air and naval transport services.

Prepared for when they are required

The Ministry of Defence has also alerted about 150 doctors and about 70 nurses on standby to be available when the situation requires it, while instructions have been given to the Military Pharmacy to increase the production of hydroalcoholic disinfectants and generic medicines. The UME is also setting up social canteens, for example at the Madrid Trade Fair Institution (IFEMA) to provide food and health care for the homeless, in collaboration with other ministries.

It is striking that the actions of the UME in Catalonia -an autonomous community with a high volume of infected people- have been delayed until Thursday, March 19th, five days after the state of alarm was activated.

Until that date, the Ministry of Defence did not give the placet for the EMU to proceed with disinfection, support or surveillance tasks for critical infrastructures in Barcelona. A contingent of 85 military personnel and 28 vehicles arrived in the late afternoon of the San José holiday in the county town and distributed their troops between El Prat airport and the port of Barcelona. The defence authorities have made it clear that the deployment in Catalonia and the Basque Country will take place «when requested and necessary».

With regard to the presence of the EMU in the Basque Country, on the morning of Tuesday, 17 March, around fifty EMU soldiers did not reach their final destination, Vitoria airport, where it was apparently planned and agreed that they would disinfect their facilities to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 to passengers using their air terminals. Apparently, they had to make do with arriving in the town of Araca -a few kilometres from Vitoria-, in order to disinfect the installations of the military base that the Army has there.


Juan Pons
Senior advisor at Proa Comunicación and Army Colonel

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