Despite challenges presented by COVID-19, soldiers with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade mobilized from their home stations to Fort Hood, Texas, to prepare for their deployment to the Middle East.
The 28th ECAB is preparing for deployment and is taking precautions to ensure soldiers receive the training, experience and confidence to accomplish their missions and stay safe. They will soon deploy to the Middle East, where they will assist U.S. Central Command with increasing regional security and stability in support of U.S. interests.
Though he acknowledged that there were some delays due to weather and lost baggage, Army Col. Howard Lloyd, commander of the 28th ECAB, described the movement of the brigade to Fort Hood as "spot on."
"Almost 1,400 soldiers embarked for this place without any hiccups," Lloyd said. "They are here, all safe. They are all bedded down. Our unit movement officers and logisticians did a great job to support the force."
The command team understands the concerns about COVID-19 and its potential to spread within the formation. It is very important that soldiers remain healthy, and the brigade has taken numerous steps to ensure the virus doesn’t spread.
"Some of the precautions we are taking to prevent transmission of COVID-19 are wearing masks whenever we are within 6 feet of each other," said Army Maj. Todd Lupold, surgeon with the 28th ECAB. "We are socially distancing as much as possible. We are also keeping up with frequent hand washing and sanitization of our areas. Our soldiers have been counseled frequently about the precautions for COVID-19 and the importance of wearing masks, and we keep up on each other and keep an eye out for each other."
The soldiers also underwent COVID-19 testing in the first couple days after arriving at Fort Hood. A small number of positive cases were discovered, but although the soldiers were asymptomatic, they were taken into isolation to receive the best care and stop any potential spread of the virus.
Soldiers are engaged in a mandatory 4-day quarantine. They are unable to shop at the post exchange, go to the normal dining facilities or use the post gym.
Two to three barracks are grouped into cohorts. Each cohort is assigned a dining tent, a morale tent and an exercise tent with select gym equipment. Separating cohorts this way limits the spread of any viruses in common areas, officials explained.
At the end of the mandatory 14-day period, assuming there are no outbreaks of the virus, things will open up for the 28th ECAB soldiers However, they will still be advised to take personal measures to prevent the spread of illness and stay healthy.
Following these precautions will keep the threat of COVID-19 in the formation low, and will allow the 28th ECAB to aggressively train without fear of spreading the virus deploying personnel training for the deployment. Meanwhile, they're doing what they need to do to be ready for their deployment.
"The soldiers are owning it," Lloyd said. "They are doing a fantastic job to get the job done. We're already out there at the airfield doing maintenance on aircraft. We're doing maintenance on vehicles. We're setting up our mission command right now. Everything is on-track, even with the restrictions."
(Army Capt. Travis Mueller is assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade.)