With resiliency, persistence and grit, Spartans around the world have been a force for good throughout the COVID-19 crisis. In East Lansing, Michigan State’s campus not only became home to the largest drive-through vaccination clinic in Michigan but also served as a critical hub for the United States government. For more than 14 months, the Broad College of Business’ James B. Henry Center for Executive Development hosted the Michigan Army National Guard during its nationwide pandemic response efforts.
“The 46th Military Police Command was activated to federal status on March 30, 2020, and became the headquarters for Task Force 46. We quickly realized that the space that we were operating from was not conducive to our command providing the supervisory role that was required of us,” Capt. Greg Appold, commander of Task Force 46’s Headquarters Company, said. “We realized the Henry Center would provide us the requisite space to provide an overall picture to our commanding general about how the thousands of different service members were arrayed through our area of operations.”
Task Force 46, now part of the U.S. Army North, moved into the Henry Center — just south of MSU’s main campus — in May 2020. From there, 150 personnel operated out of the location in collaboration with the Department of Defense.
Using this state-of-the-art facility to act effectively and efficiently, the men and women of Task Force 46, known as “Peacekeepers,” were shuttled from “home” at the Henry Center forward to locations across seven of 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency regions within the United States.
“The Henry Center allowed us the open space needed for collaboration between current operations, planning cells, religious support assets, medical planning operations and logistical support for the entire time the unit was activated,” Appold said.
Originally, Task Force 46’s mission began in Battle Creek, Michigan, as command-and-control response supporting the U.S. Army North as part of the government’s operation against COVID-19. After two months of activation, service members searched for a facility that would allow social distancing, had access to advanced technologies and contained flexible room space.
“We were going to do whatever we could to make the Henry Center available to them,” David Frayer, assistant dean for outreach and engagement, said. “The executive development programs we would normally hold in this building were all moved to a live, online format in spring 2020, just when the Army was looking for a location. The space would have been empty, so it was a simple decision to make this happen. Even without knowing their physical and technological needs, there was a sincere desire to support the response to an unprecedented situation facing our nation.”
Among the services provided by the Broad College were 24-hour housekeeping service through a partnership with the University Club, dedicated technology support with an on-call IT professional and event and room setup support. In addition, university-grade high-speed internet, hundreds of portable conference tables and ergonomic seating, power distributed in each room and 100,000 square feet (nearly two football fields) of flexible meeting and conference space, including an atrium for larger staff meetings, were all leveraged.
“We needed to have a venue that provided reliable communication to our subordinate units, and the Henry Center staff went above and beyond to ensure that we were able to continuously engage with everyone that we needed to,” Appold said.
While working from the Henry Center — at times, 14-hour days and seven-day weeks — Task Force 46 was able to embrace agility and shift strategy and tactics in response to the moving target that was and is COVID-19.
The mission ultimately took on three phases: managing field hospitals, supporting civilian hospitals and vaccine distribution. The task force managed three field hospitals across Detroit and New Orleans from its original deployment location. When the focus transitioned to the coordination and placement of DoD medical professionals in civilian hospitals across the country, the unit moved to Lansing as a long-term solution. Providing relief to overstressed hospitals, DoD-affiliated doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses supported more than 20 civilian hospitals in Arizona, California, Louisiana, the Navajo Nation, North Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.
“As the pandemic extended, we were then tasked with setting up vaccination sites to provide vaccinations to all eligible people,” Appold said. As a result, the distribution of more than 1.9 million COVID-19 vaccinations was coordinated from the Broad College’s facility.
Beyond these critical roles, the task force held many other responsibilities during the mission. One of the more memorable was overseeing the security for and media coordination of a presidential visit to the Houston Community Vaccination Center in Texas on Feb. 26, 2021.
The deployment ended in July 2021, and the Henry Center has since returned to delivering executive education programs. “MSU and the Henry Center were truly partners in our response to the global pandemic,” Appold said. Through partnerships like this, we can have an extraordinary impact and overcome the world’s challenges, proving that without a doubt, Spartans Will.