FORT BENNING, Ga. – Readiness and protection of the force remains the top priority for the Maneuver Center of Excellence as troop movement through Fort Benning’s intermediate staging base operations pick up momentum delivering trained and ready troops to military installations across the United States and, most recently, overseas assignments in the Pacific theater.
Initial entry graduates from forts Rucker, Alabama, and Gordon, Georgia joined the newest Armor and Infantry Soldiers here for a “proof of principle” in the reception, staging and eventual onward movement to their first unit of assignment in the Republic of Korea and Japan, May 11.
The proof of principle, essentially a test run, measured the ability to move COVID-19 free Soldiers from one clean environment to another. The MCoE serves as a model within U.S. Training and Doctrine Command when it comes to supplying the operating force with the clean, healthy troops needed to maintain readiness.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that the U.S. Army is always ready to defend our interest both domestically and abroad,” said Maj. Mark Moretti, deputy commanding officer of MCoE's 199th Infantry Brigade and charged with oversight on intermediate staging base operations here. “COVID-19 hasn’t changed our requirement to maintain readiness of the force. It has changed the way we facilitate doing so,” he said.
Stringent, detailed measures have been put in place to ensure and maintain a clean population arrives and departs to and from the installation. Soldiers from forts Gordon and Rucker were medically screened prior to their arrival to Fort Benning, and upon arrival here screened again ensuring they remained free of COVID-19.
The environments they passed through, modes of transportation such as buses and aircraft, were thoroughly sanitized before, during and after transport. Social distancing was also strictly enforced while in transport to and from, and while staged at the Life Support Area, or LSA, until further movement onward, Moretti said.
The MCoE saw its first departure of Armor and Infantry One Station Unit Training Soldiers to Fort Stewart, Georgia, by bus April 9, after the Department of Defense’s initial COVID-19 travel ban.
“The MCoE has successfully adhered to the required health and safety measures to protect the force for over a month now,” said Col. Bryan E. Fowler, deputy chief of staff for sustainment at the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence.
Movements by vehicle or aircraft are dependent on whether the destination is over or under
500 miles of Fort Benning. Any installation beyond 500 miles of Fort Benning requires travel by air. In just over a month’s time, roughly one thousand Soldiers have “cleanly” processed through Fort Benning to their first duty stations across the nation.
“We’ve been flying troops to forts Carson, Drum, Bliss and Hood, while adhering to the required safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and as a result we’re now consolidating Soldiers from multiple locations to Fort Benning for onward movement to overseas assignments, most recently within Pacific Command,” Fowler said.
From Fort Benning, the Soldiers moved by charter air onto Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where they repeat the sanitization and medical screening process again before joining fellow Soldiers slated for assignments in Korea and Japan.
Moretti said although the responsibility to provide the best trained Soldiers to operational units will never stop, the reception, staging and onward movement process has changed.
Ensuring the population is clean and remains clean is a meticulous process of multiple health and medical screenings of cadre, transporters and Soldiers, thorough sanitization regimes equipment and facilities and strictly enforced social distancing.
Our responsibility to ensure the readiness of the force, whether it’s training up or moving out Soldiers to their next assignments is our priority. We have a commitment to defend our nation, we [MCoE] facilitate this by adhering to our lines of effort but also to the safety and health measures required to protect the force,” said Moretti.
According to Fowler, approximately one thousand more Soldiers will process through Fort Benning’s intermediate staging area to U.S. Forces Command units across the globe by the end of this month. "Our goal is to protect the force and ensure readiness across the U. S. Army," Fowler said.