U.S. Northern Command was built to take on big enemies: terrorist attacks, Russian bombers and North Korean missiles.
It has proved itself adept at dealing with big nonmilitary problems from hurricanes to floods.
But the Peterson Air Force Base command's most protracted battle has come against the tiniest of foes, coronavirus. And after more than year in the field, backing up overwhelmed civilian health care workers, tracking vaccine shipments and administering more than 5 million inoculations, the command is wrapping up its coronavirus relief work.
From New York to Los Angeles, troops from across the military have fanned out to help the nation deal with its biggest health crisis in a century.
"Through every challenge faced during this pandemic, we have worked alongside and supported the civil authorities and amazing medical professionals across our country who have been on the front lines of this effort,” Northern Command's boss, Gen. Glen VanHerck, said in a statement.
The command's effort involved troops from across Colorado, especially soldiers from Fort Carson.
Early in the pandemic, those soldiers set up field trauma hospitals in a bid to take pressure off civilian facilities. That proved a learning experience: It turned out when people stay home, the need for trauma care drops precipitously.
But the command changed gears and started delivering what was needed most: trained care providers. More than 10,000 troops from across the armed services went to work in hard-pressed civilian hospitals, addressing a critical shortage of health workers with military might.
Then, when widespread inoculations became available, the military hauled hypodermics and skilled troops into underserved communities.
Run with military precision, those vaccination clinics have likely saved tens of thousands of lives by delivering 5 million vaccine doses.
Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, who leads the Army component of Northern Command, said the results of what those troops accomplished is evident in the fact that the military is standing down.
“As demand for federal military support for pandemic response declines, so too can our presence as we reset for potential, future all-hazards response and homeland defense missions directed by the Department of Defense,” she said in a statement.
The homeland help is a visible part of a mostly invisible mission for the command.
While directing vaccination sites, the command's leaders also kept watch for Russian bombers off Alaska, tracked terrorist activity and monitored missile launches around the planet.
And on Christmas Eve, Northern Command troops and their colleagues at the North American Aerospace Defense Command will again track Santa Claus, which leaders there joking call their biggest no-fail mission.
Most Americans will never know about the few hundred people in Peterson Air Force Base's Building No. 2 who made the military's pandemic response possible. There will never be an accounting of how many lives they saved.
So, if you run across one of those people in the grocery store or while walking your dog, stop for a minute.
They have earned our gratitude.