Members of the Mission Command Training Program’s support team for U.S. Army North’s COVID-19 response mission are returning to Fort Leavenworth. About 100 MCTP soldiers served in mission planning staffs around the nation as part of U.S. Army North’s COVID-19 response in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local governments.
MCTP’s forces usually mentor and coach brigade, division and corps staffs on how to plan for combat operations.
“This (mission) differed in that it was not a planned exercise focused on improving staff proficiency,” said Col. Bob Molinari, chief of Operations Group Alpha. “This mission was a real-world operation where MCTP leaders were participants vice observer, controllers and trainers.”
As part of MCTP’s support to U.S. Army North, the training advisers bolstered COVID-19 response task force planning staffs around the nation to help manage the staging of medical and mortuary care assets in population centers that were expected to suffer high rates of pandemic effects. Lt. Col. Nancy Harris, a signals training adviser from Operations Group Bravo, said this homeland deployment was like a capstone on her time spent advising Army units at warfighter exercises as she prepares for her next assignment at the Pentagon.
Operations Group Alpha worked with Joint Task Force Civil Support from Fort Eustis, Va., to enable Title 10 medical support to New England, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Its mission planners assisted with prioritizing control of medical and mortuary affairs units in New York and New Jersey because of the high number of COVID-19 cases in both states, Molinari said.
A team from Operations Group Sierra integrated into the 377th Theater Sustainment Command’s Task Force Theater Sustainment Command in New Orleans, which was responsible for logistical support to federal virus response efforts nationwide.
Operations Group Delta deployed a team to Fort Douglas near Salt Lake City as part of the 76th Operational Response Command’s Task Force 76 headquarters.
In Battle Creek, Mich., training advisers from Operations Group Charlie integrated into the 46th Military Police Command’s Task Force Center, which was responsible for supporting virus response efforts across 15 states in the central United States, from Michigan to Texas. According to Lt. Col. John Wanja, a civil-military planner with Operations Group Charlie and future battalion commander of 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, this 20-member team of advisers set up a civil-military operations planning cell to support medical service locations in Detroit, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.
A team from Fort Leavenworth that included members from MCTP’s Operations Group Bravo, the Center for Army Lessons Learned and the Center for Army Doctrine traveled to Joint Base San Antonio to support the U.S. Army North Staff’s Joint Forces Land Component Command as part of the Army’s support of FEMA and local authorities. MCTP personnel ensured that the commanders of U.S. Army North and U.S. Northern Command had access to real-time information from medical workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, and predictive analysis to inform priorities of support across the nation.
For some soldiers accustomed to operating overseas, the mission to support a homeland emergency brought a unique sense of personal urgency. Harris said it was reassuring to see the level of medical support being put into the New York area, given that she has family in the region.
Maj. Anthony Marquez, a training advisor from Operations Group Alpha, provided analysis on COVID-19 expansion modeling in FEMA Region 1 (New England), which is where his wife and children are currently living.
Molinari said he is proud of his team members.
“I’m very proud of the dedication and selfless service of the 20 leaders that assisted in the COVID-19 response with the great support of their families to handle the stress of the pandemic unknown and stay-at-home restrictions,” Molinari said.
As with combat deployments, this mission to enable medical support across the nation came with some personal sacrifice. Lt. Col. Ian Ginty, a training adviser with Operations Group Charlie and future commander of 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, had planned a promotion celebration at Fort Leavenworth, but had to have a less formal event while he served as the G3/5 officer for Task Force Center in Battle Creek.
This mission carried strategic importance, however, the in-depth tactical-level experience of MCTP’s training advisors played a meaningful role in this mission, Harris said. Team members brought knowledge from the tactical level to provide feedback on decisions with potentially national implications.
“Knowing what they had to do at the tactical level helped to guide processes at the strategic level,” she said.
Most of MCTP’s COVID-19 response teams have returned and are completing a 14-day quarantine. With this mission nearly complete, leaders across the unit are returning their focus to preparation for the remaining warfighter exercises scheduled for 2020.
Pandemic response is unlike what most military units train for. Harris said she credits the experience of being a training adviser for helping with the rapid shift of mission and mindset that was required for supporting a high-visibility, national effort.
“It was working at MCTP that prepared me for this,” she said.