CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, N.Y. – Preparing for an overseas deployment is always tough and demanding, according to New York Army National Guard Maj. Jason Cossey, the commander of the 466th Area Support Medical Company.
Preparing for deployment during a pandemic is even more difficult, Cossey said as his company hit day 14 of a 19-day annual training at Camp Smith.
“We lost a significant amount of training time that we would have had to help prepare for the deployment,” Cossey said. “But, everyone has adjusted well, and the unit has really rallied together during these tough times.”
To cope with social distancing requirements, the 466th organized its 46 Soldiers and officers into cohorts of 10 each. These teams moved, trained, ate and lived together to minimize exposure to the COVID-19 virus and comply with social distancing recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC).
All Soldiers were screened for COVID-19 with daily temperature readings and twice-a-day checks for symptoms, Cossey said. Soldiers were also required to wear masks.
The 466th Soldiers said wearing a mask was tedious, but they understood the necessity of keeping themselves and their battle buddies safe.
As a mobilizing unit, every drill counts, Cossey said, and losing time during the pandemic was another problem to solve.
The New York Army National Guard required units to alternate their training schedule to virtual drills, reducing training time during April and May.
The unit was to complete weapons qualification at Fort Drum during the April drill. In May, Soldiers were to conduct land navigation and driver training at Camp Smith.
Those tasks instead were switched to annual training and mandatory classroom training was conducted online, Cossey said. The pandemic also altered plans for the 466th when it came to the logistics of their pre-mobilization training.
“We had a very solid plan to go to Fort Indiantown Gap (Pennsylvania), but when the pandemic hit and installations started shutting down, we told our Soldiers that everything was going to have to be very fluid,” 1st Sgt. Scott Kyle said.
Since New York was the epicenter of the pandemic, there was increased concern for Soldiers traveling across state lines, Cossey said.
With a few weeks’ notice, the training plan changed to Camp Smith and was completely revised due to COVID-19, Kyle said.
Some of the Soldiers were required to attend special school training for their respective jobs. But due to COVID-19 restrictions, some of these courses were postponed or canceled, Cossey said.
Thankfully, they have been able to work with the schools around the country based on their state requirements and have been able to push 95% of their Soldiers through.
All the medics are required to attend a five-day trauma training course before mobilization. That is now scheduled for July, just weeks before the unit has to depart for a 10-month deployment.
However, to comply with CDC guidelines, the Soldiers attending this training are required to quarantine for 14 days before their course, turning a five-day training into nearly three weeks.
In addition to the extended time away from family, some of the Soldiers from the 466th volunteered for the COVID-19 response mission that began in March. These Soldiers have already been away from home for weeks, Cossey said.
One of these is Spc. Olivia Mannetti, a combat medic. Since March, Mannetti has conducted sick call for Soldiers working on the COVID-19 mission at Camp Smith.
Despite being away from her family since March, Mannetti said she was thankful for the experience she received while being a part of the COVID-19 mission.
And, she added, she is looking forward to the upcoming deployment. “It is what I signed up for,” Mannetti explained.
Spc. Tom Gallino said the company’s training period and working alongside the physician assistants assigned to the unit has made him more confident and proficient in his skills.
The company will mobilize later in the summer for deployment to the Central Command area of responsibility.