ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on how people go about their business all around the world. This was particularly true when South Korea became one of the first nations hard hit with the outbreak.
U.S. Forces Korea responded swiftly and by mid-February, clean teams were being initiated at garrisons throughout the peninsula. It soon became apparent, however, that due to its diverse mission set and multiple locations, the Army Field Support Battalion – Northeast Asia would have to take things a step farther.
“We started thinking seriously about this around the end of January,” said Lt. Col. John M. Ruths, commander, AFSBn-NEA. “Wade Kerr, our battalion safety manager, notified our three divisions in Korea, and two sites in Japan, as well as the battalion S4 to look at providing sanitizers and masks for personnel at their facilities.”
Clean teams were up-and-running by the end of February at the four primary garrisons in South Korea.
“Area IV stood up a team, however, they did not provide a ‘whole-area’ clean team,” Ruths said. “Considering how we are so spread out geographically and that we have a lot of specialized equipment, we decided to develop our own team.”
Looking not only at the imminent threat, but also planning ahead to address possible future contingencies, the battalion stood-up their own specialized clean team to take on COVID-19 now, and be prepared to combat emergencies in the future.
“We thought it was important to create our own team so we can react within our own footprint without external assistance, and to be trained and prepared to respond to other situations in the future,” Kerr said. “This effort has not only set us up to combat COVID-19 short-term, but also sets us up for long term emergency response success.”
The battalion’s Safety Branch started by creating customized emergency response standard operating procedures, incorporating input from multiple agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
One of the first obstacles they encountered was obtaining the necessary personal protective equipment, and disinfecting supplies, not only for clean team members, but rank and file employees as well.
“We saw long lead times for obtaining materials, so the Safety Team procured PPE and disinfecting items from local industrial sources,” Ruths said. “With that in mind, we intend to maintain a stockpile of such items for future contingencies.”
The team conducted hands-on training including chemical dilution techniques and formula surface application, dwell times and how to properly don and doff PPE. The divisions got involved by producing signboards for each workspace reminding workers to follow proper procedures in order to halt the spread of COVID-19.
“We’ve had a very positive response from the workforce,” Kerr said. “Everyone has been very cooperative in regards to social distancing, hand washing, decontaminating their work spaces and things like that.”
To test the team’s skills, Kerr conducted a decontamination drill in April. He developed “Kerronavirus” decals to simulate potential “hot spots” for the team to locate and neutralize. The team managed to find and disinfect 64 of the 66 miniscule decals placed throughout the Battalion Safety Office. Decals ranged in size from one square centimeter to one square inch.
The initial clean team members are trained to lead a team, giving the battalion expansion and multi-site capability, if needed.
The team’s success has been noticed by others.
“One of our sister brigades called and asked if they could use our SOP,” Ruths said. “Of course we said yes. We are proud of what we have developed and are happy to share what we learned to help fight COVID-19 and be better prepared for future emergencies.”
The AFSBn-NEA, is headquartered at Camp Carroll, South Korea, and falls under the 403rd Army Field Support Brigade, located at Camp Henry, South Korea. The 403rd AFSB is a subordinate unit of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command headquartered at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. ASC, the control hub for global Army logistics, falls under the U.S. Army Materiel Command located at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. AMC, a four-star command, delivers logistics, sustainment and materiel readiness from the installation to the forward tactical edge to ensure globally dominant land force capabilities.