Episode 88: Retired General Gus Perna on Operation Warp Speed


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Gus Perna spent his entire adult life - 40 years - leading troops as an Army officer. A career logistician, he rose to the top of his field, commanding the organization responsible for all Army parts distribution and supply chain management.

Gus and his wife Susan had long planned to retire to Huntsville, Alabama in early 2020. As things happened, however, just as the Pernas were preparing to transition out of the Army, COVID-19 changed everything.

In the early, dark days of the pandemic, President Trump asked Gus to remain in uniform and manage the production and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the shot that would get us all out of lockdown. The Nation needed Gus Perna - the world needed his leadership - and he couldn't say no.

Operation Warp Speed, the program initiated by the Trump administration to accelerate the vaccine, the program that Gus oversaw, was among the most critical and most complicated efforts of the American government since the close of World War II. It was also among the largest in scale.

This discussion with Gus Perna actually followed from Episode 87. In that episode, historian Arthur Herman told a story about meeting General Perna during his time at OWS. Gus had read Arthur's book "Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II," about the American business leaders who helped build the World War II Army and gleamed lessons from the book as he organized the OWS team. There are many parallels between the situation described in the book and the effort Gus was leading. The general contacted Arthur and brought him out to the OWS headquarters to speak with the team of scientists, doctors, military officers, and governmental officials working on vaccine development and distribution. After the visit, Gus wrote Arthur a personalized letter describing how much the book and the visit meant to him. That letter, which Arthur described in Episode 87, is hung on the historian's wall.

So, we caught up with Gus, who retired earlier this year after completing his mission with Warp Speed, for this episode, Episode 88. He spoke from his Alabama home about what went right and what went wrong with the operation. He spoke about his thoughts on vaccine hesitancy and his feelings on the politicization of the vaccine. He spoke about his OWS team, about the pressure of leading the world through a pandemic in one of the most scrutinized operations in recent history. He also spoke about leadership, about a lifetime of military service, about the support Susan offered when he needed it most.

We should mention that during the discussion, Gus references Dr. Moncef Slaoui the researcher who worked alongside the general at OWS. General Perna and Dr. Slaoui were co-leads for the effort, with the general serving as the CEO.

This is a candid, raw discussion with a man who gave the country all he had. It's an episode that every American should listen to because Gus' is a voice and a story that every American should hear.

The 18th Airborne Corps podcast is the official program of the US Department of Defense. Recorded on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, we release new episodes every Tuesday and Thursday. The podcast, hosted by Joe Buccino, covers insight from history, news of the day, and professional development and often features the Nation's top military leaders. SUBSCRIBE on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iTunes, or Stitcher to ensure you never miss an episode. PLEASE LEAVE A 5-STAR RATING and a review on Apple Podcasts, as this helps others find the show!

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