FORT POLK, La. — Safety.That word — safety — is always paramount in the minds of Army leaders. Whether it is squad, team, platoon or company training, rotations to the Joint Readiness Training Center, National Training Center, or a deployment down range, safety is of utmost importance.With the current COVID-19 pandemic, safety has become even more prominent in planning for units as they seek to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, while at the same time conducting realistic training before heading to an overseas deployment.Rotation 20-08 at the JRTC seeks to do just that as the 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade, with elements from the 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment, Michigan National Guard, and the Security Force Assistance Command from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, prepare for a deployment to Afghanistan later this summer.The focus on safety began before the Soldiers boarded buses or aircraft for the trip to Alexandria, Louisiana in transit to Fort Polk. Soldiers received a COVID-19 screening at their home station, followed by another screening by a team of JRTC and Fort Polk medical personnel at the Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group (ADACG) at Alexandria International Airport.Once on Fort Polk, rotational Soldiers were assigned to barracks that normally sleep 40, but to maintain social distancing requirements, will sleep just 12 for this rotation.Sgt. 1st Class Kohlby Hollingsworth, C Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th SFAB, said the limited number of Soldiers in each barracks is a plus.“We actually have more space here so it’s kind of nice,” he said. “It helps alleviate concerns about contracting COVID-19.”Hollingsworth said the precautions 4th SFAB has put in place — social distancing, gloves, masks, and eye protection — should keep Soldiers COVID-19 free during the rotation.“I’m not really worried about it,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is in any serious danger of getting it. When we reach the field, I think as long as we set the practices now, when we get out there we’ll be just fine.”Hollingsworth said he knows Army leaders are watching this rotation with a discerning eye to see if it’s feasible to resume large-scale training.“I think we’re here to help figure out those best practices during this time and that’s one of the ways we can contribute to the force,” he said. “That’s what we’re here to do, and to continue on with our training as well.”Before heading to the JRTC “Box” training area, 4th SFAB Soldiers were issued multiple integrated laser engagement systems — MILES — gear. Maj. Kevin Mott, 2nd Bn, 4th SFAB executive officer, said adjustments were made to the way MILES gear was distributed to Soldiers.“For a typical rotation we would go to a warehouse with a significant number of people to draw our MILES gear at the same time,” he said. “With the COVID-19 mitigation measures, we had cases of individual MILES gear dropped off at each company area so we don’t have people congregating indoors or in one area. Instead we have five or six Soldiers who inventory the MILES, and then we will issue it out to individual Soldiers. It limits the size of crowds; we’re not dropping off a case for a whole platoon — it’s each barracks and there are 12 Soldiers per barracks.”Maj. Chad Campbell, C Co, 2nd Bn, 4th SFAB company commander, said in addition to the MILES issue adjustments, other areas were looked at to mitigate possible COVID-19 exposure, including using a solution of 95% water and 5% bleach to sanitize equipment and work spaces.“We’re looking at continuing the bleach/water solution even after things return to normal,” he said. “It’s said cleanliness is next to Godliness; I think it gives everyone a heads up and says let’s re-look how we’re doing business, and not just because of COVID-19, but because we want to maintain a healthy workplace.”As the 4th SFAB’s vehicles began arriving via 18-wheeler, safety measures — both to prevent injury and COVID-19 — were followed. Maj. Jonathan Cach, B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th SFAB troop commander, said any time vehicles are moved, Soldiers have to use proper ground guide procedures.“You must ensure Soldiers are aware of all the moving pieces around them,” he said. “Anytime we’re in the yard, all of our personal protective equipment is on — helmet, gloves and eye protection.”As for COVID-19 mitigation, Cach said he limits the number of Soldiers in the yard and makes sure they maintain social distancing.“We use the fence (chain link fence around the motor yard) as our guidepost,” he said. “If you think one Soldier per section of fence, then that keeps them 6 feet apart, and allows them to sit down and take their masks off when it’s hot.”Cach said that while masks are an important tool in COVID-19 mitigation, it’s also important to protect against heat casualties. He added having a good water source on hand is important, and medics are on standby in the event something should happen.“With our rank structure, its actually made things easier,” he said. “We are 100% NCO with myself and one other officer here. It’s been very smooth. The NCOs understand ground guide procedures and hand and arm signals.”Cach said Fort Polk safety office representatives have been a big help.“They’ve been awesome,” he said. “They’re not here troubleshooting or yelling at us; they’re here helping us, and it’s been really great. It’s been really smooth.”Capt. Adam Graetz, 4th SFAB safety officer, said there were a few minor issues unloading the unit’s vehicles.“We’ve had a few things that were loaded a little differently than what we expected, but the team handled it with no problem and worked through it,” he said.Another area that Graetz identified as needing work was heat mitigation. “We’re a new unit and don’t have a lot of tents to set up and get our Soldiers out of the heat,” he said. “The heat down here is no joke, especially coming from Fort Carson, so we’re figuring out things. Our command sergeant major was able to get ice from the dining facility, and we borrowed some tents from the post safety office. Between heat and live fire, I think those will be our two biggest safety issues.”Graetz said it will be a challenge to maintain COVID-19 mitigation efforts once the 4th SFAB moves to the Box.“But this is a unit of senior leaders, so they’ve all been hand selected,” he said. “That means they’re in the top percent of Army leaders. It might be uncomfortable, but they’ll be OK. It’s an all-volunteer unit so they all want to be here. This is the first time our unit has come to a CTC. It’s a little different with the COVID-19 restrictions, but it’s still going to be great training.”