FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – In preparation for their rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center-Fort Polk, Louisiana, all Strike Soldiers participating in the training were tested for the COVID-19 virus to ensure optimal health and mission readiness of the entire unit.
Approximately 4,000 Soldiers assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), were tested last week at Hanger 3 on Campbell Army Airfield. The Soldiers were tested in pools of 10. Each pool is assigned a number, and the 10 swabs in the pool were tested at the same time.
“They loaded onto the bus in manifest order at the Strike DFAC,” said Capt. Tyler Connell, 2nd BCT medical operations officer. “The bus moved over to Hanger 3 where we have our mass swab testing. They are checked in at our entry control point to make sure they are in their proper pool, they are then moved inside to a lane of medics.” Once all of the Soldiers in the pool are swabbed, they are moved to the patient administrative desk and checked out of the testing site.”
In each testing lane, medics in full personal protective equipment conduct the swabbing, Connell said. To collect the sample a swab, which are Q-tips on long sticks, is pushed up into the nasal cavity for 10 seconds. These swabs are then placed into a numbered tube with the other sample swabs taken from the pool.
Pool testing is when 10 or less samples are taken and put together into one sample and tested as one single test. All samples are tested, but are tested together at once, Connell said.
“One hundred percent of Soldiers going down to JRTC are tested,” said Capt. David Kennie, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT. “This is just one of the ways we are working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while down at JRTC. It goes to show how serious we are taking COVID-19. We’re in a situation where there is a lot of risk, but we’re doing what we can to mitigate it. We’re bringing a ton of sanitation equipment down with us while also planning ways to social distance and protect ourselves during the training.”
Upon leaving the testing site, the Soldiers are restricted and must limit their movements to only mission essential activities outside of their homes or barracks. This restriction of movement limits Soldiers to only traveling to and from work, to medical appointments or grocery shopping. This restriction helps prevent Soldiers from potentially spreading COVID-19 or from being infected while awaiting test results.
“No Soldiers who are COVID-19 positive from this testing will move forward to the JRTC rotation,” Connell said. “Soldiers are tested five days prior to their departure timeline, once they are tested they are put on restrictive movement by the General Order from Maj. Gen. Brian E. Winski. They must also wear masks at all times after being swabbed.”
As the swabbing was completed for each pool, the numbered tubes were packaged together by pool, placed in a cooler, and sent to the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital lab. The BACH lab then sent the tests to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, for processing.
“The advantages of pool testing is it is a more efficient way than to test individual cases because it creates a check and balance system,” Connell said. “If a pool comes up positive at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the entire pool of Soldiers is retested once again individually to determine the positive case or cases at the BACH COVID-19 Clinic. If a pool Soldiers comes up negative during the second test, they are retested once again by the BACH COVID-19 Clinic. If the third test comes up negative again, they can move forward to the JRTC rotation.”
If a pool comes back negative during the first test, the entire pool is cleared to move on to the JRTC rotation.
“The pool testing is the best way to capture positive results before they arrive at the JRTC rotation,” Connell said. “They will effectively remove everyone who is COVID-19 positive, whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic and place them into isolation so the JRTC rotation is not infected.”
Kennie said they extensively planned to make the testing site a smooth and seamless operation.
“We rehearsed, we made sure our medics were trained on exactly what to do and we even prepared our bus drivers,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t do this haphazardly.”
JRTC is a necessary mission-ready training event to prepare Strike Soldiers for answering any call to action, Kennie said.
“It provides a much larger training area, it’s a new location in an unfamiliar terrain that tests us further,” he said. “In addition, we have assets such as Air Force and Special Operations units that get incorporated with us. There is also a dedicated staff there who observes us the entire time, evaluates us and then provides us with great professional feedback to get us one step further in becoming great at our jobs. It’s absolutely necessary.”
The COVID-19 testing and preventative measures in place now will set a solid foundation for the success at JRTC for Strike in the coming weeks.