‘Operation Enduring Friendship’: Weeks of Diplomatic Discussions and Procurement Efforts Culminate With First-Ever Direct Freight Flight From Incheon International Airport to BWI Marshall Airport
News Release, Office of Governor Larry Hogan
ANNAPOLIS, MD—Governor Larry Hogan today announced that the State of Maryland has acquired 500,000 COVID-19 tests from South Korea’s LabGenomics. The governor was joined for today’s announcement outside Government House by First Lady Yumi Hogan.
Following are the governor’s remarks, as prepared for delivery;
“From the beginning of this coronavirus pandemic, one of the biggest problems in America has been the lack of availability of testing. It remains the most serious obstacle to safely reopening our states.
“Here in Maryland, we have been doing everything in our power to acquire more tests from the federal government. Unfortunately, we have also had to compete with every state in America in our attempts to procure tests from every domestic producer in the U.S. and from sources around the globe.
“As I said last week, adequate testing is one of the four critical building blocks of our ‘Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery.’ Over the past 30 days, Maryland has successfully expanded our testing capability by over 5,000 percent, and we have now completed over 71,000 tests to date.
“Last week, we secured 40,000 additional tests, and we invested $2.5 million to help the University of Maryland, Baltimore lab use cutting-edge robotics to build their capacity in order to handle up to 20,000 tests per day.
“All of that progress to date has been important. But this weekend, we took an exponential game-changing step forward on our large-scale testing initiative. We have been quietly working for a number of weeks on a confidential project called ‘Operation Enduring Friendship.’
“On Saturday, the First Lady and I stood on the tarmac at BWI Airport, to welcome the first ever Korean Air passenger plane, a Boeing 777 which had no passengers, but was carrying a very important payload of LabGun COVID-19 PCR test kits from a South Korean company called LabGenomics, which will now give Maryland the capability of performing half a million coronavirus tests.
“The 500,000 test capacity which we have just acquired is equal to the total amount of testing that has been completed by four of the top five states in America combined.
“‘Operation Enduring Friendship’ was launched on Saturday, March 28th, when I asked my wife, Yumi, to join me on a call with Korea’s Ambassador to the United States, Lee Soo-hyuck. We spoke of the special relationship between Maryland and the Republic of Korea, and we made a personal plea in Korean asking for their assistance.
“That call set in motion 22 straight days of vetting, testing, negotiations, and protocols between our scientists and doctors, eight Maryland state government agencies, and our counterparts in Korea. We convened countless calls nearly every night—sometimes it seemed like all night—working through language barriers and a thirteen-hour time difference.
“And at the last minute, we then navigated clearances across multiple U.S. agencies, including the FDA, the USDA, and Customs and Border Patrol, in order to complete this incredible mission for the people of Maryland.
“I want to sincerely thank our South Korean partners for assisting us in our fight against this common, hidden enemy.
“Each part of this international collaboration was unprecedented, from identifying and vetting the Korean testing company and getting the scientists in our labs to work together through all the technical details with the teams in Korea, to the complexities of the international procurement contracts, to figuring out intricate logistics solutions like arranging the first-ever Korean Air flight from Korea to land at BWI. It really was an amazing team effort.
“I want to personally thank President Moon Jae-in, Prime Minister Chung, Ambassador Lee, and Minister Hong, the Director for Public Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is here today representing the Republic of Korea, and who was there with us at BWI on Saturday.
“I also want to thank LabGenomics who developed and produced the tests, Samsung SDS for the logistical support, Korean Air for the very special charter flight, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, John S. Connor Global Logistics, and our entire ‘Operation Enduring Friendship’ team here in Maryland, especially Roy McGrath, the director of MES, who spearheaded our efforts; along with Secretary Ellington Churchill and the Department of General Services; Deputy Secretary Fran Phillips and the Maryland Department of Health; Secretary Greg Slater and the Maryland Department of Transportation; Ricky Smith and the Maryland Aviation Administration; Major General Tim Gowen and the Maryland National Guard; Colonel Jerry Jones and the Maryland State Police; Secretary David Brinkley of the Maryland Department of Budget and Management; and a special thanks to Soo Koo from the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives, who stayed awake many nights assisting us with communications and who served as our lead translator throughout this entire process.
“I’d also like to thank our federal partners here in the U.S. for their cooperation. But most importantly, I want to thank Maryland’s First Lady, my wife Yumi. She truly is a champion of ‘Operation Enduring Friendship.’ You may know that she is the first Asian First Lady in the history of our state, but she is also the very first Korean American First Lady of any state in the history of the United States, which is why Maryland is proud to have such a special bond with South Korea.
“In February, the First Lady and I worked with Ambassador Lee to arrange for a reception at the Ambassador’s residence in Washington during the NGA Annual Winter Meeting. It was the first time that America’s governors had all gathered together at the Korean Ambassador’s residence.
“It was a special surprise for us when President Moon appeared on a video screen to recognize our special partnership. He said that Korea was so proud of my wife, and that they considered me a ?? ??, which means a ‘son-in-law’ to the Korean people. I considered it an honor for him to say that, but I had no idea just how much it would truly come to mean these two very long months later.
“Later this week, we will be introducing our ‘Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery.’ This recovery plan has four building blocks, including a robust contact tracing operation, increasing our supply of PPE, and increasing hospital surge capacity.
“Our team is making significant progress on each of these criteria, but the most critical part of both our recovery plan for Maryland and the reopening guidelines the President introduced on Thursday is the capability to do widespread testing.
“The incredible success of ‘Operation Enduring Friendship’ has not only put us on track to achieve that goal, but it will literally help save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.
“This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. My wife often says that she would not be here if it were not for the dedication and the sacrifice of the brave Americans who fought for the freedom of South Korea. And she and President Moon have both talked about the incredible debt of gratitude that South Korea feels toward the American people.
“Let me just say that after ‘Operation Enduring Friendship,’ the State of Maryland owes an incredible debt of gratitude to the people of South Korea.
“As Maryland begins its reopening and recovery, Marylanders should feel confident in knowing that we have done everything in our power, gone to every length, and used every tool and every resource at our disposal to defeat this deadly virus.
“May God bless the great State of Maryland, the Republic of Korea, and the United States of America.”