SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii – Even during a pandemic, Soldiers must continue to train to levels that sustain the fighting force, and prepare for future deployments.
The Army faces a unique challenge with COVID-19. Soldiers in the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, faced the challenge head-on as they prepared for their upcoming training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
“Units have participated in JRTC rotations for over 25 years and have utilized these training opportunities to experience realistic training in a stressful environment in order to prepare them for conflicts,” said Dr. (Maj.) Panfilo Delacruz, Task Force Warrior surgeon. “Keeping our Soldiers safe during these training exercises has always been a priority; however, this year, the added stressor is ensuring our Soldiers remain safe from an invisible enemy, COVID-19.”
The staff at Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic led the effort to ensure the 4,000 25th ID Soldiers of Task Force Warrior were medically prepared for their JRTC rotation. This included the execution of a sea emergency deployment readiness exercise (SEDRE), followed by COVID-19 testing.
These preparations required the collective partnership of DDHC, Tripler Army Medical Center, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, and key 25th ID leaders in the personnel, operations, and division surgeon sections that resulted in more than 9,000 medical-related interactions over a four-week period starting in late September. These key leaders also coordinated with the Hawaii Military Health System market team during mission analysis to incorporate six Navy corpsmen into the 25-person COVID-19 swabbing team.
“The last 30 days reflect the planning efforts of over four months and truly demonstrates the interagency support required to make this a collective success,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Geiman, deputy commander of health and readiness at DDHC. “This achievement is about an installation rallying around a problem set and a medical community focused on ensuring Soldiers meet the medical requirements to execute training safely.”
The requirement to safely test more than 4,000 Soldiers required a strong emphasis on process development and safety protocol, added Geiman.
“Our staff started by reviewing COVID best practices from across the MHS Market and then developed the processes with a continued commitment to safety, both for the Soldiers and our staff, said Sgt. 1st Class Johnnie Buffkin, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Soldier Readiness Center. “We never sacrificed safety at the cost of throughput; rather, we found innovative ways to execute both and I commend the team for the approach.”
The execution of an operation this size also required robust laboratory support from DDHC and Tripler. The Tripler laboratory worked around the clock to track, evaluate, and issue each Soldier’s result within a 48-hour window to ensure every Soldier met the departure schedule.
To protect the safety of all involved, strict contact-tracing measures were put in place in the event a Soldier tested positive for COVID-19. If positive, Soldiers would not deploy and be treated in accordance with current Army and Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
“We averaged 300-500 Soldiers per day for nearly two weeks, to include weekends,” said Delacruz. “The team did a phenomenal job working around the clock to ensure a successful JRTC mission. The medical community truly demonstrated a commitment to building readiness.”