FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. – Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Hale, commander, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca announced the release of General Order #9 during his recurring COVID Town Hall via Facebook Live Tuesday, January 19.
The policy changes included in the update officially took place Wednesday, January 20. They included opening the Main Exchange and Post Commissary to Advanced Individual Training Soldiers previously confined to Prosser Village, reopening the gyms, with mandatory mask requirements, and allowing all beneficiaries to once again shop at the Regimental Troop Store near Van Deman Gate.
During the broadcast the general applauded the work done by members of the Fort Huachuca community to reinstitute a protective bubble around the training population. For the first two weeks of January, the commander implemented stricter COVID mitigation measures in an effort to protect the community from COVID outbreaks following holiday travel and holiday gatherings expected to increase infections.
“Our Soldiers obviously did the right things, because our infection rates were much lower than we expected upon everyone’s return,” said Hale. “Now that we’ve reinstituted the bubble, I think we can allow for more freedom of movement.”
The general has repeatedly said he wants to get the fort back to more normal ways of life as soon as possible. He and his senior staff discuss frequently the mental health of the community, striking difficult balances between the best interests of public health and mental resiliency. It is their hope the relaxed measures in GO#9 will give the community some relief. The team uses data and science in their deliberations on what to open and what restrictions to keep in place.
“Our COVID positives among uniformed military personnel at Fort Huachuca remain low,” said Hale. “I think that shows that they are abiding by the general orders and staying safe, but the risk continues to be among dependents, civilian employees, retirees and contractors, who are by far where we are seeing the highest COVID infections and deaths. I can’t prosecute these populations for not following my orders, but I do highly encourage them to do so. Because these are the contact points that risk introducing infection to our uniformed members and threaten our mission.”
Hale is concerned for all members of Team Huachuca, but uniformed members have deployable missions and are integral to national security, making them a particular concern.
“We have a no fail mission here at Fort Huachuca, and COVID is a very real threat,” said Command Sgt. Major Warren K. Robinson, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence. “We have to protect the force who protects the nation.”
Adding to the difficulty of combating COVID are the numbers of declinations to getting the COVID vaccine.
“Here I have a state-of-the art weapon I’m trying to issue to everyone in this war with me, and I’ve got young Soldiers turning it down. That frustrates me,” said Hale. “We are in a fight for lives and people are saying ‘no, I’ll go it alone.’ This doesn’t make any sense. With more than 17 million vaccinations delivered to patients already there have been negligible side effects, yet people still propagate misinformation. It makes no sense.”
Hale and Lt. Col. Wendy Gray, commander, Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center, have heard a myriad of rumors about the vaccine, which they have actively tried to combat. Among the most prolific is a misconception that the vaccine was developed too fast to be safe, which just isn’t true said Gray.
“The data and science have existed for decades. It isn’t like they just started working on this in March,” said Gray. “Ever since the SARS virus appeared, research has been ongoing on how to combat a respiratory illness like this. If anything, we are lucky that so much was already underway and came to maturity at just the right time. That coupled with Operation Warp Speed, which sent federal dollars into the process and partnered federal government with private industry to focus on solutions and test the safety and efficacy of the vaccine is what got us through the end of the development. We are really lucky to be where we are in time with this superior technology. I can’t imagine turning down life-saving medicine. I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin who wrote in his autobiography that his greatest regret was not getting his four-year-old son vaccinated against smallpox, which killed his child.”
Gray has engaged individual units and recorded her own myth-busting talk show on the vaccine. Still, less than 100% of personnel are taking the vaccine, which increases the risks to everyone.
“I need as many people as possible to get the vaccine to help protect our Soldiers, civilians, family members and our nation,” said Hale.
“Yes sir!” agreed Gray, in her familiar banter with the boss.
“At some point we have to get back to normal,” said Hale. “Those who choose not to get vaccinated are putting themselves and others at greater risk.”
Almost as soon as GO#9 was published, Hale met with top officials to discuss the next iteration and change that might come with General Order #10. Hoping to open more of the base to normal operations, he constantly seeks information and remains concerned with the well-being of others.
“I haven’t eaten inside a restaurant in almost a year,” says Hale. “It just isn’t safe, but the outdoors are open and there are so many other opportunities for people to find joy and relaxation. I just need them to be smart and safe.”
Hale, who must travel frequently for work, gets COVID tests before and after each trip, and then restricts his movement, even with his own family members. He says he won’t violate his own orders, even when traveling to other duty stations, and would never ask others to do something he doesn’t do himself.
“My wife stays socially distant until I have my test each time,” admits Hale. “We are in extraordinary times and we must take extraordinary measures.”
Hale knows people are struggling to adapt to COVID and are outright just COVID fatigued, but he urges everyone to be resilient and help one another.
“I need units to check in and help their teammates who are quarantined, isolated, or teleworking,” said Hale. “I need mothers and fathers to be flexible, families to be understanding, and Soldiers to be resilient and adaptable. We WILL get through this, but this could last through the end of the year, so we must be strong. This is a long game, and we can do it.”
Hale continues to push for the next shipment of vaccines and is diligently seeking faster distribution methods. Getting the majority of personnel vaccinated he thinks will allow the community to open more amenities more quickly. He continues to look for future recreational opportunities for the fort, and looks forward to bringing the workforce back from max telework.
“At some point we have to get back to business as usual across all objectives and priorities,” said Hale. “The more who get vaccinated, the more quickly we can get back to normal and get rid of COVID mitigation general orders all together. Those are the great days ahead of us. I can see them now. I just need everyone to join the fight and get vaccinated so we can get there.”
The entire order can be read here: https://home.army.mil/huachuca/application/files/1416/1108/4887/GO_9.pdf
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