ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – It was early in the morning on March 14, a Saturday, when the team received their instructions for combatting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19): Build quarantine sites within the U.S. for hundreds of returning Soldiers as soon as possible.
Within 24 hours, the first site at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, had a capacity of 300 people.
“It’s never been done this fast before in the history of the Army,” said Jim Coffman, deputy to the executive director, Acquisition Integration Management Center, U.S. Army Sustainment Command. “The planes (filled with returning Soldiers) were already in the air when we started.”
On March 11, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued guidance on expanded restrictions for military members traveling to and from certain countries with an elevated travel health-notice due to outbreaks of COVID-19. Among those restrictions was an order for servicemembers to self-isolate for 14 days at home.
Housing options were needed for returning military members who lacked appropriate quarters where they could isolate themselves. Hence, it was necessary to rapidly build the first three quarantine sites, two at Fort Bliss, Texas/New Mexico, and another at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The facilities were built primarily through the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, which has a set of contracted agreements with private companies that enable rapid construction of what Coffman called “life support areas” or “small cities” that provide a full-range of services, including WiFi.
“LOGCAP is essentially the commercial sector’s equivalent of the ‘911’ for base life support requirements,” said Coffman, who is leading the team overseeing these LOGCAP operations. “These are the same kind of contracts we used during relief efforts following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa.”
The sites include laundry facilities, sleeping arrangements, showers, fire protection, and recreation areas.
“LSAs include basically everything you need to run a city, and they are scalable in size,” said Coffman.
Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg and of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss have been the primary users of these new sites, but the LSAs are expected to house more returning Soldiers in the months to come.
“The new facilities are not luxurious and have required refinement as Soldiers started to occupy them,” said Col. Matthew Hamilton, commander of the 406th Army Field Support Brigade, Fort Bragg. “But in these difficult times, it is imperative for us to be sure the community and the rest of our force is as safe as possible.
“We trust our Soldiers to understand the need for certainty about their health status and to face this time in good spirits.”
USOs and other local organizations have also donated amenities to help Soldiers cope with quarantine.
“Soldiers quarantined at Fort Bliss, Texas, after returning from their overseas deployments continue to make the best of their unexpected situation,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Cobb, senior enlisted adviser, 1st Armored Division, in a Facebook post March 23. “I’m always impressed by the incredible resiliency of our Soldiers.”
As the Army seeks to further protect the force and communities from exposure to COVID-19, more sites are either under construction or planned at Fort Lee, Virginia; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; and Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Another LSA is tentatively planned at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Many of these LSAs are being built in support of the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command. Due to Army-wide travel restrictions, many newly trained Soldiers are unable to move directly to their receiving units. LSAs will give these Soldiers a place to stay at their training sites as they await orders, freeing up space for incoming recruits and trainees.
“We are setting up these facilities to hold these troops until we can get them moved,” Coffman said. “This will enable the Army to keep recruiting and training.”
The U.S. Army Sustainment Command, located at Rock Island Arsenal, oversees LOGCAP. ASC’s mission is to integrate and synchronize key elements of the U.S. Army Materiel Command’s capabilities to deliver ready forces, enable strategic power projection, and sustain operational reach in order to win during large scale combat and multi-domain operations.