GERMERSHEIM, Germany – Like an old Country and Western song, those convoys of 18-wheelers just kept on a rollin’.
There were some detours and roadblocks, to be sure, given the myriad of Department of Defense and Host Nation rules and restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the mission went on.
When Germany closed its borders and implemented stringent checks on commercial transport vehicles, the large trucks continued to roll in and out of the U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz’ strategic logistics hub at Germersheim Army Depot.
In fact, anywhere from 150 to 200 trucks a day transit the depot to and from locations like Romania, Turkey, Poland, Italy, Spain and, of course, within Germany itself. It’s a mission that stretches across more than 10 countries throughout the European theater, as well as locations in Southwest Asia and Africa.
As the installation owner, the garrison supports three major tenant units’ European distribution centers here serving the warfighter and their families: Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). From retail goods and food and drinks to cleaning supplies and tools, the unimpeded flow of products is vital for both mission readiness and quality of life.
The garrison staff at Germersheim – from firefighters and public works specialists to security contractors and postal workers – ensured the tenant organizations were able to continue their logistical operations safely with implementation and oversight of COVID-19 mitigation measures over the last several months.
“In addition to the initial screening as people and equipment enter the installation, we have received disinfection services coordinated by the garrison at building entrances, such as handrails, doors and door handles,” said Jacinta Crim, AAFES regional distribution center manager. “Mr. Leonard Chanler (garrison site manager) also provided support to our Exchange Express store by reinforcing mask and social distancing requirements with customers.”
Chanler is the face of the garrison at Germersheim and the liaison to the partner organizations. Making sure the tenant units have everything they need to continue transport of necessary goods and services within theater is his primary role. When there are hiccups, he gets the 2:30 a.m. phone calls to fix things. In that Country and Western analogy, he’s the sheriff in town.
“The partnerships here have been in place for a while now, so this COVID-19 just solidified them,” said Chanler, site lead for almost three years. “We did identify, improve and exercise our gate access procedures regarding the screening of truck drivers, along with their cargo.”
With non-local drivers coming from as many varied places on the continent where the mission delivers, the need for rigorous point-of-entry health screening and enforced sanitization measures was quickly coordinated by Chanler and executed with borrowed military manpower.
Soldiers from the 30th Medical Brigade from another of the garrison’s installations at Sembach – whose mission already includes health service support and force health protection – have been assisting the overland cargo mission with direct engagement at the gates.
And with the numerous nationalities involved, Chanler created placards with the health screening questions in several different languages “so the truck drivers could understand what we are trying to achieve. Also, we identified a holding area at the gate in case a truck driver answered the screening questions wrong so we could deny them access while still taking cargo onto the installation.”
“The external support for screening teams on the gates and the prevention teams doing area sanitization across the base,” were cited as successful mitigation efforts to keep operations going at normal throughput according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Ackiss, commander of DLA Distribution Europe, adding that “the latter being the area where we got the most support from the garrison by doing coordination with these external support providers.”
Chanler also coordinated prevention team cleaning at Germersheim, led by Lt. Col. Laura Steele and Soldiers with the 7th Mission Support Command from Daenner Kaserne in Kaiserslautern.
“That’s the team that comes out two-to-three times per week spraying down high-traffic areas on facilities,” he explained, “primarily around the warehouses and loading docks.”
With commissary warehouse facilities that cover an area greater than the size of 11 football fields, DeCA alone is indicative of the enormous time and effort needed to properly conduct such prevention measures. Germersheim boasts the largest forward-based DeCA distribution facility, servicing 33 commissaries, 26 U.S. Embassies and four Naval Exchange Marts throughout Europe, Southwest Asia and Africa.
The AAFES distribution center at Germersheim also features a massive complex of warehouses and storage areas lined from floor to ceiling with big-screen TVs, furniture, and outdoor and leisure items to name a few; in addition to providing the necessary products for school lunch programs, fast food restaurants, movie theaters, military clothing sales, the bakery and water plant.
Due to the large volume of stock and movement, the garrison has supported other tenant organization safety measures at the distribution centers, such as providing additional personal protective equipment like masks, face shields and gloves, to employees that come in direct contact with commercial drivers at the service windows, and requiring drivers to remain in their vehicles when delivering or picking up shipments at the warehouses.
“Our overall installation success hinges on how well we collectively communicate with GAD operations down to our employees,” said Doug Nomura, distribution facilities manager for DeCA Europe’s Central Distribution Center-Germersheim. “Transparency from the GAD operations manager was definitely on point. Having information passed from Leonard to us was important because it was an update we all knew was coming from the garrison commander, 21st (Theater Sustainment Command) or from USAREUR.”
Strengthening that rapport during the pandemic was important to Col. Jason Edwards, USAG Rheinland-Pfalz commander, who toured the distribution centers in April to meet with workers, get a first-hand look at mitigation measures such as the gate inspection and screening process, and assess what other assistance the garrison could provide to keep logistics operations on track.
“All three agencies showed a great deal of pride in being committed (to the mission and safety of personnel),” said Edwards. “With the different organizational hierarchies and reporting chains, the teamwork at Germersheim is a shining example of everyone coming together for the same cause and continuing to provide critical support across the theater.”
In addition to the theater-wide focus, the garrison also made site-specific adjustments for local conditions, and if Chanler is the sheriff overseeing external support, the internal changes for first response safety came under direction of a marshall.
“Our fire and emergency services incorporated our infectious disease outbreak response protocols that protect both the responders and the customer,” said Marshall Fiedler, garrison fire chief. “For example, we outfitted the stations with additional PPE, added Host Nation screening questions in our dispatch procedures, and implemented measured response to emergencies to reduce possibility of exposures.”
The success of all the depot’s efforts can be seen in the smallest and simplest examples: when a Soldier downrange receives that spare tire for a Humvee or a family member finds a copy of the latest bestseller on the Exchange bookshelf. At the core of it all, is open communications Chanler emphasized.
“We strive to provide great communications, keeping everyone informed on what’s going on and how we can work together as a team through these trying times,” he said. “Together, we come up with alternate means or methods of working so we can keep projects going but stay within the COVID-19 restrictions.
“Through it all,” he continued, “garrison operations remain the same: support the tenants while keeping good relations with the neighboring communities. It’s a collective effort on all our parts to achieve this and I think we’re doing a great job.”