HOHENFELS, Germany — As Exercise Saber Junction 20 winds down and the battalions of the 173rd Airborne Brigade prepare to re-deploy to Vicenza, Italy and Grafenwoehr, Germany, brigade medical personnel facilitated COVID-19 surveillance testing of the entire force, Aug. 21, 2020.
After 2,500 swabs and rapid testing in Landstuhl, Germany, while the brigade finished their exercise, all tests returned negative for the virus.
“We’re conducting 100% testing of the brigade in order to ensure the health and safety of our soldiers and allies during the movement of our troops back to Italy,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Aponte, a laboratory technician in the brigade.
Four battalions of the 173rd Airborne Brigade are based in Vicenza, Italy, while another two are based in Grafenwoehr, Germany. Prior to the beginning of Exercise Saber Junction 20 and the preceding field training exercise in Grafenwoehr Training Area, all Italian-based paratroopers were tested for COVID-19 before deploying to Germany in the third week of July.
“We tested the force in Italy before moving forward to Germany,” said Aponte. “Today we’re going to take care of the whole brigade and some attachments that we have with us.”
In order to accommodate the testing, the brigade took a tactical pause and temporarily suspended the simulated wartime environment. Spread across the vast Hohenfels Training Area, each battalion sent medical personnel to pick up the testing equipment from the brigade.
“The brigade is providing the tools and each battalion is adjusting to their area of operations,” said Aponte.
The 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, for example, is using one of the simulated towns to carry out their testing, while the Brigade Support Battalion is using tents.
Pfc. Frank Croce, a medic assigned to the Brigade Support Battalion, assisted in the testing of 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. Commenting on the testing site, Croce said they were able to set it up very quickly after the tactical pause began.
“It’s a hasty setup, but it’s effective,” said Croce.
Once each battalion finished swabbing their entire personnel roster, the brigade collected the samples and shipped them off in a UH-60 Black Hawk for testing. As of Aug. 22, all samples were returned with negative results.