In September 2020, 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2CR) was faced with an outbreak of COVID-19 that rapidly spread within its Regimental Engineering Squadron (RES). The outbreak happened after a few Soldiers attended a festival in the local city of Nuremberg and a spouse attended a social gathering. Unit surveillance testing identified the Soldiers and the dependent; unfortunately, these personnel unwittingly had direct contact with several others. Out of an abundance of caution, the squadron immediately underwent 100% testing and isolation. In an effort to safeguard the remaining and adjacent forces, the entire RES was placed under isolation restrictions that day. Only 24 hours after identification of the first case, it was identified that several others within the RES had contracted the virus.
The outbreak and isolation restrictions caused an immediate need for field feeding of the quarantined personnel. A squadron of Soldiers (around 650 Soldiers) were no longer able to obtain food from the dining facility (DFAC), commissary, or similar infrastructure. This created a unique problem set with the additional difficulty of the squadron being located on a different post then their parent unit, 2CR.
Defining the Problem and Building Solutions
Sustainment leadership did not just have to respond immediately, but with caution – safeguarding our force was our number one concern. Soldiers would not be able to feed from a mermite line or obtain Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) distributed similar to a field exercise due to the possible interaction they could be having with other personnel. The Soldiers in the barracks would need to be brought food in order to quarantine and prevent spread of the virus. The Regimental Support Squadron (RSS) and RES leadership were in contact early and often with each other to develop courses of action to immediately deliver Class I to RES Soldiers residing in two barracks housing around 145 Soldiers each. The units developed two courses of action to support this emerging requirement.
The first course of action was to inventory how many MREs were available across the regiment to determine how long the unit could sustain in case the DFAC could not support. After inventory was completed, it was determined that the two squadrons had seven days of supply (DOS) to feed both barracks of Soldiers, if needed for this duration. Soldiers in each room would receive a 96-hour supply, which would be enough to sustain them through isolation to ensure the Soldier was negative for COVID-19. This method would prevent Soldiers from co-mingling with each other and potentially infecting other Soldiers.
The second course of action was to have mermite meals delivered to the barracks three times a day in order to support Soldiers while Restriction of Movement was in place. Soldiers from the forward support troop not affiliated with the trace would take all preventive measures available to fix meals and not contaminate in the process. In an effort to minimize contact transmission, predetermined personnel would deliver mermites to the isolation facility. Clamshell plates and saran wrap were used to prepare the meals in each building; personnel would deliver to each room wearing gloves and masks as PPE. Soldier delivering the meals would knock on the door of the isolated Soldier, and then the isolated Soldier would wait 10 seconds before opening the door to retrieve the meal. This additional safety measure would prevent further containment, while safeguarding the supporting Soldiers.
The 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), located on the same post as the RES, reached out to the 2CR RSS the evening following the outbreak to lay bare the logistical constraints of immediately shifting to mermite-based support for those troops. In a joint effort between the RSS Support Operations (SPO) and 18th CSSB SPO, emergency provisions were set in place so that the 18th CSSB would provide immediate support while receiving assistance from 2CR DFAC assets so that they may work through the near-term logistics hurdles. For the first N+1, +2, +3 days, Soldiers were told to purchase their own rations from the commissary or on-post dining facilities and were then provided a refund in the form of meal vouchers. This would sustain them for the first 96 hours of quarantine. 2CR held the 96 hours’ worth of MREs in stock in case of an emergency. At N+4, the 2CR DFAC supplied rations for the next 24 hours in an effort to ensure Soldiers were getting hot chow. At N+5 days, 18th CSSB took over mermite operations in order to cut down on the logistical support needed to transport the 2CR mermite supply.
Lessons for the Future
As operations returned to normal with testing proving that the outbreak had been isolated and contained, units increased their basic load of MRE stock in the case of another outbreak, supply staff increased orders for paper products to transport meals, and DFAC soldiers continued to be regularly tested in order to prevent cross contamination. The logistical response tested 2CR’s systems, communication lines, and our external relationships. Building relations between support structures has proved vital to units located in Europe and other OCONUS locations. These units are reliant on one another for continual readiness during operations and mission support for the required yearly international exercises.
Lt. Col. Christopher M. Richardson is currently the commander of the Regimental Support Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. He is a graduate of Command and General Staff College, Joint Professional Military Education II, and Advanced Navigation Operations.
Command Sgt. Maj. Willie C. Allen Jr. is currently CSM for the Regimental Support Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. He is a graduate of the United States Army Sergeants’ Major Academy Class 68.
Maj. Phillip Hetteburg is currently the support operations officer for the Regimental Support Squadron, 2rd Cavalry Regiment. He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College.
1st Lt. Rebecca Jeffrey is currently the Deputy Support Operations Officer for the Regimental Support Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. She is a graduate of Medical Service Officer Basic Course.
This article was published in the January-March 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.