The 606th Movement Control Team (MCT) deployed from its home station strategic support area during the COVID-19 pandemic. The unit incorporated lessons learned from the brigade chemical team into the MCT’s systems and processes and successfully mitigated risks of COVID-19 infection.
Strategic Support Area Movement Control Operations Pre-COVID-19
MCTs are inherently tied to strategic support areas. On Gen. Gustave "Gus" Perna's fort-to-port, port-to-port, and port-to-foxhole vision of strategic readiness, transportation movement coordinators (88N) are tied into this process at every step. 88Ns generate transportation movement release requests for ground lines of communication movements, air movement requests for fixed- and rotor-wing transport on air lines of communication and provide in-transit visibility (ITV) with a variety of systems to enable warfighters to see themselves at all times. So of course, MCTs have a strong ad-vantage in deploying our own organic equipment from our installations to our combat sustainment destinations.
606th MCT is aligned with the 1st Armored Division (1AD) and has a unique home station mission to provide strategic movement support for worldwide contingency missions, scheduled rotations, and training events to both 1AD) and Fort Bliss, Texas, tenant units. Notably, 1AD is the only division with three armored brigade combat teams (ABCTs) and only one home-station MCT. Pre-COVID-19 restrictions, 606th MCT completed a year of support in a variety of strategic support areas. 606th MCT deployed and redeployed two ABCTs and one combat aviation brigade (CAB) with teams at Port of San Diego, California; Port of Corpus Christi, Texas; Port of Beaumont, Texas; and the rail yard for Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow in California. In addition, we provided movement control support on Fort Bliss with teams at the Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group (A/DACG), the rail yard, and at freight haul locations.
At all locations and from our detachment operations cell in our company operations facility (COF), 606th MCT provided ITV using our modified table of equipment (MTOE) systems. We utilized organic ITV equipment, including interrogators using Transportation Coordinators'-Automated Informa-tion for Movements System Version II enabled by our Very Small Aperture Terminal and Portable Deployment Kits connected to the Iridium Satellite Network.
606th MCT used our automated ITV equipment to create military shipping labels, radio frequency identification device tags, and to generate daily dashboards for supported units to see the updated movement status of their equipment. Further, at each location we conducted centralized receiving and shipping point operations, scanned equipment in with handheld devices, and maintained analog tracking boards as a back up to our automated systems. Incorporating movement control best practices, we supported units with movement preparation area (MPA) and deployment ready reaction field operations in order to ensure no equipment would be frustrated prior to rail load at Fort Bliss Rail Yard.
Overall, 606th MCT moved over 1,000 pieces of armored equipment between nodes during our pre-deployment year of home station movement control operations. It was a very busy year, which our Soldiers loved!
Tactical Training Incorporating CBRN Defense Pre-COVID-19
At every opportunity, 606th MCT conducted home station missions in full kit with weapons, optics, and night vision devices drawn from our secure Arms and Sensitive Items rooms. We also used our tactical vehicles and encrypted communications. This tactical readiness approach carried over to training our defensive mission essential task list tasks. 606th MCT Soldiers qualified with our weapons during night fire and while wearing our chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defense protective equipment. Our tactical training culminated with live fire gunnery of our convoy protection platforms.
Although an MCT doesn't have a CBRN specialist (74D) as part of its MTOE, we fortunately had an entire chemical battalion colocated in our sustainment brigade. We coordinated in-depth training with 22nd Chemical Battalion on all of our CBRN defense equipment, including our M50 Protective Masks, Radioactivity Detection, Identification and Computation (RADIAC), and Joint Chemical Agent Detector (JCAD) equipment. 606th MCT developed confidence through training in our ability to proficiently use our JCADs to detect chemical agents and increase our Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) while conducting our tactical and movement control tasks. In addition we knew we could use our RADIACs to detect and react appropriately to incidents of high radiation discovered in our area of operations. Thus we felt extremely well prepared in March 2020, only months from deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, when the Army began implementing COVID-19 restrictions.
Deploying An MCT Under COVID-19 Restrictions Using Lessons From Afghanistan
The Army emphasizes its ability to conduct missions while in a high CBRN defensive posture, and yet our first notable biological defensive requirement in recent times did not engage any of our CBRN equipment. We found ourselves with real world COVID-19 based friction affecting our ability to complete deployment of our equipment and personnel, and yet our RADIACs and JCADs were, of course, not part of the solution.
Fortunately, our brigade chemical officer and NCO team, although deployed forward in Afghanistan at the time, provided mentorship on best practices for executing our strategic support area deployment requirements while adhering to US Army COVID-19 policies and best practices to protect our Soldiers' welfare and readiness.
While deployed in Afghanistan, the 1AD Sustainment Brigade headquarters' chemical team's first plan of action was to create a training plan. When someone on base tested positive for COVID-19, the chemical team would deploy an 8-10 Soldier team to go in and disinfect the rooms. The purpose of this team was to disinfect rooms in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These teams would disinfect areas a person who tested positive for COVID-19 came in contact with.
In order to ensure the team entering contaminated areas didn't them-selves get infected, the brigade chemical team developed a tailored personal protective equipment (PPE) kit for COVID-19 defense. The brigade chemical team coordinated with brigade medics and ordered N95 masks, boots, gowns, eye protection, and all of the necessary disinfection products. Every product the team used was in accordance with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For soft items such as linen and clothes, the disinfection team used an alcohol solution. For dressers, walls, and other hard items the team used CaviCide spray. In the process, the brigade chemical team learned a lot about medical PPE and disinfection processes and use and the sustainment of medical supplies (Class VIII).
Soldiers who entered the contaminated environment to disinfect it were known as the “dirty” team. When these Soldiers exited the contaminated environment they immediately entered a decontamination area. The purpose of this was to ensure all contaminated PPE was properly disposed of. The brigade chemical team had a dedicated command post to track location of personnel who went into the contaminated area to ensure safety.
Overall, the brigade decontamination team was able to teach 40 Soldiers decontamination best practices, including 12 coalition Soldiers from the Republic of Georgia. Additionally, the brigade decontamination team completed over 15 missions in just three months. The practices the team taught are still being used today in theater.
The sustainment brigade chemical team conveyed these COVID-19 protective measures and best practices to 606th MCT as the unit prepared to deploy. able to complete RFI draw, Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology distribution, load out, Joint Inspection of containers, and other pre-deployment tasks while adhering to our brigade chemical team's best practices. 606th MCT brought in a section of four Soldiers at a time for pre-deployment tasks. Our Soldiers completed their tasks wearing face masks, maintaining 6 feet separation, and cleaning and disinfecting work spaces before and after each use. Throughout our deployment process the support of battalion and brigade staff, our own rear detachment, and the unit we replaced made the deployment process much smoother. For example, 606th MCT was able to get our required general officer level proof of quarantine memo signed and printed for us during our two weeks of quarantine thanks to aggressive staff support at higher echelons.
We maintained COVID-19 preventive measures at every stage of our deployment movement including from our report from quarantine to our COF for weapons draw, to our transport to the Fort Bliss A/DACG, to our arrival in theater. Today in theater, we are performing a highly dynamic movement control mission set while of course still maintaining these COVID-19 precautions.
Lessons Learned From COVID-19 Strategic Support Area Movement Control Operations
A lesson learned from deploying from Fort Bliss, our strategic support area is while the forms of CBRN defense we traditionally train with are important for the variety of CBRN threats, we must also be prepared to implement more mundane biological threat defense techniques. If we're stocking M50 protective masks, it may be wise to have pre-stocked and COVID-19 effective face masks for each Soldier too, as well as a 90-day supply of hand sanitizer and disinfectant cleaning supplies. The unit Standard Operating Procedures can include an annex for operations under social distancing, which is essentially minimal manning to conduct a mission. Units should have familiarity with contact tracing and a plan for quarantining a portion of their element. In Combat Training Center rotations, we've frequently had to perform our tasks in MOPP level 4 for several hours or participate in a CBRN mass casualty event. However, we don't recall the proven to be likely scenario of having to set up a quarantine space for 20% of our Soldiers or to conduct contact tracing. 606th MCT, like the rest of our sustainment community and Army, proved up to the task of conducting strategic support area missions under COVID-19 restrictions. However, COVID-19 is providing valuable lessons for us to further improve strategic readiness.
Capt. Eli D. Rothblatt is the detachment commander for 606th Movement Control Team, 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade. He has a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University and a juris doctor from New York University School of Law.
1st Lt. Jessica A. Fields is the Brigade Chemical Officer located in the First Armored Sustainment Brigade at Fort Bliss Texas. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Child Development from Illinois State University.
Sgt. 1st Class Justin Z. Jones is the detachment sergeant and senior movements NCO for 606th Movement Control Team, 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade.
This article was published in the October-December 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.