FORT POLK, La. – Raindrops pounded on a tin roof above Soldiers seeking shelter from an incoming category two hurricane.
Howling winds of more than 50 miles an hour sent shockwaves through ad hoc billeting full of empty cots and camouflage sleeping bags. With power out, Soldiers strapped on headlamps and continued planning their mission under a red illuminated glow.
Task Force Warrior’s mission is to deploy to the Joint Readiness Training Center and defeat Geronimo, a role-playing group of “enemy” soldiers played by real U.S. Soldiers.
“Nothing can stop us,” said Sgt. Ashley Kiley, paralegal for 1-21 Infantry Battalion, Task Force Warrior. “A few months ago there were doubters, because of the pandemic. But, then [2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division] resourced thousands of COVID-19 tests. Everyone was tested before we flew out.”
Task Force Warrior is made up of Soldiers from 2IBCT, enablers across the 25th ID, supporting units from across the U.S. military and multi-national partners from Indonesia and Thailand. The entire task force tested negative for COVID-19 before deploying here for the JRTC rotation.
The task force was consolidating combat equipment and completing their final preparations when weather services predicted hurricane Delta to move through their area of operation.
“We began planning our hurricane safety measures before we arrived,” said Capt. Michael Kim, battle captain for Task Force Warrior. “We saw this happen to the ‘Bastogne’ brigade (101st Airborne Division) last month during Hurricane Laura. They shared lessons learned like ensuring our generators were staged and topped off with fuel. It made all the difference.”
Just hours after setting up tents, command posts, antennas, and tactical work stations, the task force packed up and moved over 4,000 Soldiers into JRTC’s available hard-standing structures. They distributed Meals-Ready-to-Eat and water cans to every billet. Soldiers were directed to prepare to shelter in place for up to 72 hours, Kim said.
“We often hear safety is the top priority, but here we saw it firsthand,” Kim said. “Leaders showed the same amount of effort and consideration planning for our hurricane preparation as they do for our training missions.”
“We all had a feeling this was coming,” Kiley said. “As soon as we got off the plane we saw broken trees laying down from Hurricane Laura. But, if we can make it here during a pandemic, a hurricane isn’t going to slow us down.”
The task force converted office buildings into barracks and conference rooms into tactical operations centers. Dry erase boards and analog maps replaced computers and advanced digital systems. Back to fundamentals, the training never slowed.
All the while, the task force continued to wear masks, take temperatures, wash hands and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.
"You get used to it," Kiley said, when asked about what it's like wearing a mask at JRTC. "It's not about being comfortable, it's about protecting each other."
"Between a pandemic and a hurricane, we've face unimaginable challenges up until this point. In a weird way, I think it's going to bring us all closer together. Challenging times tends to unite people," Kiley said.
The task force will face challenging conditions next week when launching into ‘the box’ or JRTC’s sizeable training acreage. Soldiers will face flooded roads, saturated ground, fallen trees and extra-swampy terrain.
“So what if my boots get wet?” Kiley said. “It’s Geronimo who should be scared. They think they know this area, but they don’t know it post-Hurricane Delta. If anything, this hurricane has evened out the playing field. Neither of us know what’s out there.”
Task Force Warrior is scheduled to take on Geronimo next week.
“If we can make it this far, there is no reason we can’t win,” Kiley said.