BELLE CHASSE, La. - The 377th Theater Sustainment Command has had an intense year.
As the leading logistical element in support of U.S. Army North’s nationwide disaster response, Soldiers within the command have been mobilized to support medical units across the country in their fight against COVID-19, respond to a catastrophic hurricane season, and assist in the ongoing fight to stem the seemingly interminable west coast wildfires.
Through it all, the command’s original mission to support the sustainment objectives of the U.S. Army Reserve Command across the country has never ceased, despite the suspension of in-person battle assemblies for months. After seeing extended success in mitigating COVID-19 exposure risk during the U.S. Army North mobilization, some of the Soldiers will be coming back to drill in-person for the first time since the pandemic began.
“Across the Army, our priority is our people,” said Lt. Col. Tara Trout, special troops battalion commander. “The safety of our soldiers and civilians is paramount. I think it's important to emphasize that we are taking COVID seriously. We are continuously monitoring and assessing the risks and the trends nationwide and locally.”
As a measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19, U.S. Army Reserve units were authorized to execute battle assemblies through virtual means such as Microsoft Teams. This has challenged leaders to be creative in implementing training schedules to keep Soldiers current with required training.
“Part of that challenge was figuring out how to do that, so we took a look at what our resources were really to see how we could do that safely,” she continued. “The first resource that we were worried about was space. We had to determine where we could safely accommodate the Soldiers with social distancing.”
With the gradual move to the return of in-person battle assembly, the implementation and communication of safety protocols has become a priority for Trout.
“We're having safety briefings every morning in formation just to remind everybody. I think sometimes we can get complacent just being around each other all day long.”
Throughout the drill weekend, Soldiers across the battalion managed to execute training while safely maintaining safety and distancing standards.
“We have roughly 350 Soldiers from the west coast to the east coast,” said Capt. Aristotle Alviso, a company commander at the unit. “So as part of mitigating the risk and also looking at where people are coming from for this battle assembly, we saw who was within the commuting distance which was roughly 100 soldiers. And then we did a space analysis looking at how many workspaces we could do with reason and with good social distancing.”
In line with safety protocols provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the command executed training events throughout October’s four-day battle assembly. These included leader-lead ethics training, preliminary marksmanship instruction for an upcoming weapons range, and familiarization of the Army Combat Fitness Test.
“The main thing that I was looking forward to was identifying the logistical rigor it takes to set this up because it took some time to set up,” Alviso explained. “Now we have a better idea of how much space it's actually going to take to run this test.”
Soldiers within the unit have welcomed the shift back to in-person battle assemblies compared to the virtual means used for the past several months.
“The battle assembly, in my opinion, should be in person because there's only so much you can do online, especially if you're a mechanic,” said Spc. Brian Hartman, a generator mechanic within the headquarters. “Somebody that works on the military equipment here can't really do that from home. It's kind of tough for some jobs, so it's good to be back and be working on stuff.”
Though the end of the road to normalcy seems far, Alviso is optimistic about the way ahead for the unit.
“I think we're going the right way and trying to approach a crawl, walk, run kind of phasing to bring the Soldiers back. For some Soldiers, especially for those that are living across the country, maybe it's just not the right time to bring them here this month. But we're looking forward to them coming in in the future.”