ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Anniston Army Depot’s Small Arms Readiness Evaluation Team, also known as SARET, is committed to supporting the warfighter; even in the midst of a global pandemic that continues to grip most of the world. While the COVID-19 pandemic does not change SARET’s commitment to the mission, it certainly changes the way it is carried out.
“COVID-19 has thrown in many obstacles when it comes to logistics,” said Paul Barber, Directorate of Production’s fielding operations chief.
SARET’s mission is to inspect and repair small arms weapons for pre-identified military units that are preparing or returning from deployment. Due to the nature of these missions, the 28 member team of small arms repair inspectors and supply specialists spends most of its time off depot on Temporary Duty Travel at installations such as Fort Bragg, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Eglin Air Force Base, Hunter Army Airfield, Fort Campbell, Fort Carson and Fort Benning. “We complete about 15 SARET missions per year,” Barber said. “And every mission lasts about two weeks.”
With that amount of travel, restrictions caused by the pandemic certainly impact the team. Airline travel restrictions can create additional challenges when flying, so the Fielding Operations supervisors mitigate some of those challenges by driving to the TDY location instead of flying whenever possible. However, there are specific county, state and local base COVID-19 guidelines we all must follow, depending on the final travel destination.
When it comes to airline travel, Barry Williamson, a Fielding Operations supervisor who oversees tracked vehicle missions knows all about those challenges.
Recently, a mission to Germany was delayed by one day due to rapidly changing travel restrictions causing Williamson to jump to action. “Our team arrived at the airport and learned the COVID-19 testing window had just changed from 72 hours to 48 hours for travel to Germany,” Williamson said. Williamson and Barber quickly returned employees back to the depot. Employees were then sent to be retested and were able to get back to the airport without any major delay to the mission schedule. “It has always taken a lot to get employees to their TDY sites, especially overseas, but now there are 20 more items on the list,” Williamson said.
Yet, the changes and challenges don’t stop once they make it to the installations. “OCONUS missions require a 10-day quarantine at the TDY location before the mission can begin and another 10-day quarantine after the mission is completed, “said John Hennington, small arms supervisor, who travels with SARET. “There are other bases who require multiple temperature checks a day,” Hennington added.
Fielding Operations supervisors research base restrictions, via a Department of Defense coronavirus response website, as part of their mission preparations but are always prepared for changes to guidelines.
“On a typical SARET mission,
we inspect and repair approximately 2,500 small arms weapons systems, ranging from the 9mm pistol to the 120 mm mortar systems,” said Hennington. “Our goal is to get the Soldier their weapon back to fully mission capable standards. Some of the work changes that have been put in place since COVID-19, are that we have rearranged our work area to provide additional space between employees. We have also moved our parts containers from inside to outside the building to maximize distance between work stations. We also ensure there is enough hand sanitizer and safety supplies for each employee for the duration of the mission,”
And when it comes to employees’ health while on a TDY mission, supervisors are adamant that employees stay vigilant. “There’s a balance between keeping the employees safe and completing the mission,” said Barber. Supervisors remind their teams to always wear proper face coverings, wash hands frequently, maintain social distance and notify their supervisor if they are not feeling well. They also encourage employees to seek proper medical attention if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Employees know their role on a mission is critical and their actions can affect the entire team. “I know my team,” Hennington said. “They don’t want to impact the mission negatively. One person being out can affect how the team works, but one person being sick and not reporting it can as well. So, I encourage them to think about their health and the health of their fellow employees and the Soldiers.”
Supervisors’ diligence is critical for keeping the teams safe during and after missions. Following a mission in Seattle, Washington in November 2020, the entire team had to quarantine for two weeks due to positive cases of COVID-19. To keep the team and other employees at ANAD safe, the command staff elected to allow the entire team to self-quarantine at their place of residence before returning to ANAD to work. Barber and his supervisors worked with TACOM to limit travel to Seattle until the number of COVID-19 cases in the area diminished significantly. For Barber, this was necessary to ensure a similar situation would not happen again.
For the members of SARET, the changes extend beyond their work hours while TDY. Much has changed when it comes to their weekend recreation as well. “Before COVID-19, they would travel to these cool places and on weekends they could enjoy different scenery and support the local economy,” said Williamson. “Now, due to COVID-19, they don’t get to explore those places much at all.” Hennington added that many of his team members will use their weekends for grocery store runs or trips to get necessities, but for the most part they spend their time in the hotel room.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly added a level of precaution and pre-planning SARET and other TDY teams could not have expected, supervisors are committed to keeping employees safe while still carrying out ANAD’s mission of supporting the warfighter. And while COVID-19 has changed their regular routine, Hennington said, “These changes have had minimal impact on the mission, but have added more logistics.”
Barber is proud of his supervisors, noting their work has made all of the difference over the last year. “My hats off to the supervisors,” he said. “Not only do they have to think about the safety of the team, but the next mission.” He added, “The actions they take today pave the path for tomorrow and can have long standing effects on the mission.”