Superheroes Are Made in a Pandemic
How Soldiers of 9th MSC Reinvent Themselves Building Combat Platforms
Part 2 of the Foxhole to Four Star series
By Lt. Col. Steven Bittle
Photos by Staff Sgt. Jason Baddo
9th Mission Support Command, G6
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius
Here at Fort Shafter Flats, the 9th Mission Support Command is living amid a global pandemic along with the rest of the planet. COVID-19 is the single biggest disruptor in 2020. One does not have to look around much to know that your daily life has been altered. Leaders are working hard to uphold the profession of Soldiering to weather the effects of COVID restrictions and other unforeseen challenges. With almost a whole year of social distancing, professionalism has been a challenge for parents, students, and the workforce. Telework, telecommute, and teleschool are new disruptors upsetting daily routines. The new challenge is to maintain and improve one’s routine in the face of these obstacles.
Leaders learn to adapt, improvise, and overcome to meet their commander’s intent. One can find examples of Soldiers reinventing themselves and their sections during the pandemic. They faced the pandemic by finding creative ways to be productive. Doing this allowed them to complete the mission instead of letting the virus impact and halt operations. Soldiers could be seen running on empty streets instead of hitting the gym to minimize contact with others and help flatten the curve. Many Soldiers are spending time between tasks pursuing online education and training. There are sections led by Soldiers who think and act strategically. Because they embraced change, and they embraced it early with resolve, they’ve been able to be very productive during the lockdown. Staff Sgt. Wilbert Acevedo is one such Non-Commissioned Officer and improved his G6 section in the 9th MSC by attending a virtual Security Plus (computing environment boot camp). Additionally, he assisted four more Soldiers in the 9th MSC, facilitating their enrollment into the same boot camp.
There is one section in the 9th MSC that has stood out during this pandemic. It is the Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P) Upgrade Team led by Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Cox. The team also consists of Staff Sgt. Jason Baddo, Staff Sgt. Edimar Purganan, Sgt. Darci Watanabe, Sgt. Dekei Adelbai, Spc. Robin Bucaneg, and Spc. Michelle Fugate. They are Signal Soldiers installing next generation communications equipment into vehicles. The team is a combination of Soldiers from the 303rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Soldiers and the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment. Both units are Direct Reporting Units of the 9th MSC. This JBC-P Upgrade Team’s mission directly impacts two of the Commanding General’s priorities: Readiness (Building Complete Combat Platforms) and Operationalizing the Command. See Part 1 of this series: https://www.army.mil/article/234159/foxhole_to_four_star
To keep up with the workload, they focused on the basics. Cox emphasized the importance to getting back to the basics. “We are installing these communication platforms on four to five vehicles a day.” In addition, “we created a positive climate by implementing extremely high standards, emphasis is always on military bearing.”
Cox also explains how they adapted to working in a COVID environment. “I broke the Soldiers into two teams to create social distance. It was lonely in the first few months of COVID-19 because telework was in full effect, and we were often the only ones physically reporting to duty. I did not allow hibernating, instead we reinvented ourselves to fill the void.”
JBC-P Key Leader Quotes on their Team Superpower Checklist:
Regardless of religious affiliation, we start the morning with prayer or meditation. “I don’t push religion. I push gratitude and serving others. That builds resiliency during this lock down!”
“I tell the Soldiers to not booze at night. I encourage my smokers to quit. We get up too early for that. Reward yourself in the morning with a hot cup of coffee.”
“PT every morning at 0545. Non-negotiable. Bring your spouse, kids, dogs, and a 45 to 60-pound ruck. Lots of pushups, shoulder shrugs on the pull up bars. We are going to pass our ACFT. We are not doing this just to pass. This isn’t about looking good, but that is a benefit. We are going to master our mental, spiritual, and physical challenges by mastering the morning. We are building resiliency during the lockdown.”
Cox explains, “Following this checklist gave us the right combat mindset and the endurance to complete our JBC-P installs. Also, when the barbershops began closing back in March and April, we made sure we still had high and tights. I made sure I sent one Soldier at a time over to the one barbershop which remained open. COVID-19 was not going to be an excuse to look unprofessional in the uniform. We won’t tolerate sloppiness. Our desks are clean. Our tools in the motor pool are kept clean and organized.”
“I am old school Army,” Cox continues. “I encouraged all six Soldiers under me to have extra uniforms too, and to keep them pressed. Have one faded uniform and pair of boots just for install work in the motor pool. But, back in Garrison, wear your best uniform with clean boots, not the boots you wear when installing comms in the vehicles. The result is we are nearly complete with most installs on Oahu.” The team traveled to Guam to complete the JBC-P installs on the vehicles assigned to 9th MSC units.
We are a one-star command. The JBC-P is giving us a joint, digital, battle command common operating picture with enhanced map imagery and integrated, on-the-move, timely, and relevant Command and Control (C2)/Situational Awareness (SA) information to our Brigade and Battalion Commanders and their formations. As a result, the team was able to operationalize communications throughout the command, ultimately enhancing situational awareness.
“I am thankful that we had the foresight on prioritizing fundamentals,” Cox said. “It changed my Soldiers, and it changed me. We have become a better, faster, strong team in 2020.”