Working with Excellence: James A. Hoyer, Major General, USA, Retired directs the COVID-19 Joint Interagency Task Force for the State of West Virginia. He is also Vice President of Economic Innovation at West Virginia University.
“West Virginia led the way for the entire nation right out of the gate”
Governor Jim Justice
West Virginia was the first state in the nation to offer vaccines to residents of all long-term care facilities across the state and was also the first state in the nation to launch an online, statewide COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration system. It has administered more than 2.2 million doses of the vaccine to its residents, vaccinated 82.4% of its people 50 and older and 90.2% of people 65 and older.
Hoyer's 40-year military career positioned him
to lead during pandemic.
This article was first published on Aug 29, 2021 in WV NEWS
by Charles Young - SENIOR STAFF WRITER - 5 min read
Retired Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, who served as adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard from 2011 to 2020, has become a familiar face to the thousands of West Virginians who regularly tune in to Gov. Jim Justice’s virtual press briefings about the COVID-19 pandemic.
While still in his position with the National Guard, Hoyer was tapped to serve on Justice’s coronavirus task force and has played a vital role in the state’s pandemic response.
He now leads the state’s Interagency Task Force for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and soon will begin a new role as senior associate vice president at West Virginia University.
Along with Justice, Dr. Clay Marsh and other members of the task force, Hoyer was among the first West Virginians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, setting an example by receiving his first jab during a publicly televised briefing.
Hoyer, who grew up in a family steeped in the tradition of military service, said there was never a question about whether he would join the family business.
“I grew up in a neighborhood where next door to us was my cousins, next door to them was my great-grandparents and next door to them was my grandparents,” he said.
“Of that group, my father was a Korean War veteran, my uncle next door left high school before graduation and went into the last year of World War II, my great-grandfather came over from Palermo, Italy, and worked at the (Naval) Ordinance Plant in South Charleston during the war, and then my grandfather actually went down and signed up at age 35 despite having a deferment and three children. My grandfather on my father’s side was actually a World War I veteran.”
His was not the only military family on the block, Hoyer said.
“I grew up with people in that neighborhood whose fathers were Marines and sailors and soldiers,” he said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Growing up the eldest of seven children, Hoyer said he learned to be a leader long before he entered the military.
“I’ve a sister who is 20 years, two hours and 15 minutes younger than me,” he said. “I’ve always been in some kind of leadership role. I had a lot of responsibility with helping with them, and a lot of the families in our neighborhood were like that as well.”
His family never pressured him to join the service or told him that was what was expected of him, Hoyer said.
“It was just observational,” he said. “I saw things that my grandparents would do and ask them why they did it that way. They’d say, ‘I learned to do it that way in the military.”
Despite growing up surrounded by male role models, the most impactful lesson about military service came from his maternal grandmother, Hoyer said.
“She would clean off aluminum foil with soap and water and reuse it again,” he said. “She said that during the war years saving things like aluminum and growing things in a garden, that was the difference between winning the war or not. That was probably the most influential thing I ever observed related to service. It made me think about how the entire country came together to win that war.”
His military career began when he joined the Reserve Officers Training Program while attending the University of Charleston, Hoyer said.
“I joined in ‘81 and ended up leaving in February of ‘21,” he said. “So right at 40 years.”
He never imagined he would one day become a general, let alone a major general, Hoyer said.
“I assumed maybe I’d be a captain and then I’d be out,” he said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to serve and great experience, but I never envisioned I’d be general in charge of 6,500 folks and responding to every disaster the state has had for the last 15 years.”
There is little separating his public and private personas, Hoyer said.
“When you do something for almost 40 years, that becomes your way of life,” he said. “So planning, preparing, everything has to be in some kind of sequence and process.”
His wife Amy shares many of the same traits, Hoyer said.
“She’s an ER nurse by trade, so she’s a lot of the same way. They have to be very structured, disciplined and have practice, protocol and procedures and they have to be flexible,” he said. “But she’s much better at leaving that at the hospital than I am at leaving it at the armory.”
He originally planned to retire from his role with the Guard at the end of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s term, but was asked to stay through the first months of the Justice administration. Then the devastating floods of 2016 hit the state, and he was tasked with overseeing the recovery process, Hoyer said.
“My wife and I decided that I wouldn’t go until the end of Gov. Justice’s first term, and we started looking at that as a transition point, and then the pandemic hit,” he said. “So you just couldn’t walk away.”
Hoyer has participated in nearly all of Justice’s COVID-19 briefings since the start of the pandemic, fielding questions from members of the media and providing the public with timely, vital information.
In early March 2020, before the state’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, Hoyer said the men and women under his command were trained and ready to assist the state’s residents.
“The West Virginia National Guard continues to stand ready to support the state of West Virginia and our partner agencies to strengthen detection and response to COVID-19. We have contingency plans in place, are reviewing them daily and are taking steps to educate and safeguard our military and civilian personnel, family members and installation communities to prevent any public health threat,” he said.
By the end of March 2020, the Guard’s forces were working in support of efforts to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 in the state. In April 2020, Guard members began to assist with the implementation of Justice’s “West Virginia Strong — The Comeback” plan for restarting the state’s economy by conducting training seminars on recommended sanitization practices, social distancing guidelines and proper use of personal protective equipment at businesses, state agencies and for first responders.
In just one 24-hour period in late April, 2020, Guard members assisted with packing 1,400 box meals at the Mountaineer Food Bank and 202 family meal boxes at the Facing Hunger Food Bank in Huntington. In addition, they delivered 3,405 meals to Mercer, Mason and Wood counties via refrigerated trailers.
Under Hoyer’s leadership, the National Guard partnered with academic institutions and businesses to develop medical equipment, procedures and other innovations to help alleviate supply shortfalls in the state.
These included the invention of an Automated Bag Ventilator System, 3D printing of swabs for testing kits and additional personal protective equipment, 3D printing of reusable masks, the development of reusable medical gowns and the purchasing of Aerosolized Hydrogen Peroxide systems for sanitization.
The partnership between the state and WVU led to the development of a cheaper way to test patients for COVID-19, Hoyer said.
“At one point we were being charged $120 a pop for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests because that’s what the market was and there were only so many companies doing it,” he said. “We built our own PCR tests that we can do for $26, and it helped reduce costs to the state.”
When Hoyer retired from active service in January, Justice thanked him for his many years of service.
“General Hoyer has been with us for a good while, and what an incredible job he’s done,” Justice said. “I’ve seen him in action so many times. I’ve had the great opportunity to work with him. ... I can remember, general, you in the derecho, I can remember, general, you in the terrible flood of 2016. I saw you, and I’ve seen exactly what our great National Guard has done.”
He doesn’t foresee a time when he ever will retire fully, Hoyer said.
“I think that as long as I’m healthy, I will continue to work,” he said. “When you’re in uniform and you’ve got 6,500 people under your command, it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Someone has always got something that you need to help with, there’s a family in need and there’s always something going on. You really can’t turn it off.”
These days he’s able to at least dial his workload back a few days a week, which gives him time for the “little things” in life, Hoyer said.
“My wife works three days a week doing something she really loves. On those three days I take her to work and pick her up,” he said. “I couldn’t do that for 40 years. So it’s things like that, like being able to fly out and see our oldest in San Diego.”
He and his wife also have plans to travel, Hoyer said.
“I think we’re going to do the national park tours and hike,” he said. “That’s been something we’ve enjoyed.”