SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The U.S. Army Medical Command’s Best Leader Competition here lasted just a few days, but preparations for the arduous event took months of planning, organizing, and training. And due to COVID-19 restrictions, which mandated a different approach to mission accomplishment, new procedures were set in place.
For the Soldiers of Public Health Activity-Hawai’i, the challenge of balancing public health concerns became an challenge for them to tackle, all while providing behind-the-scenes support for the competition.
The PHA-H detachment led the Force Health Protection Cell and was responsible for the COVID-19 rapid testing of all attendees, ensuring the safe transport and delivery of food, transportation needs, in-processing, lane support, and tactical operations support, according to 1st Sgt. SarahJoy Patrick, PHA-H.
“I was notified in March that the Force Health Protection Cell would be a requirement,” said Patrick.
After designing a plan, Patrick and Sgt. Maj. Danny Hailey Jr., senior enlisted advisor of Public Health Command-Pacific, briefed Command Sgt. Maj. Diamond D. Hough, the MEDCOM command sergeant major, and Command Sgt. Maj. Abuoh Neufville, command sergeant major of Regional Health Command-Pacific.
Details of their plan included “protective measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 and how to conduct surveillance and pooled testing, in addition to isolation requirements,” said Patrick.
Eight PHA-H Soldiers, comprised of an animal care technician, several food inspectors and two platoon sergeants, received training from Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic personnel. Instructions included the proper use of personal protective equipment, swabbing, test kit procedures, and proper mask fitting. The PHA-H Soldiers also took the initiative to familiarize themselves with current local, state, and installation policies.
Armed with new skills, the PHA-H Soldiers arrived at the competition location a week before the competitors. For Sgt. 1st Class Rocky A. Edwards, PHA-H, that meant early mornings and late evenings. Edwards was in charge of coordinating the feeding of approximately 120 Soldiers for the work-up and duration of the event.
With the advent and fluidity of COVID-19 restrictions, the team took all precautions to ensure the safety of all personnel in its area. A protective ‘bubble’ was formed and whenever anyone entered a specified location, that person would receive a rapid test. Then, every 72 hours, everybody would be retested.
For some, testing was more frequent. Edwards and whoever accompanied him to pick up breakfast and lunch received a double swab daily, because they had left the ‘bubble’ area.
The workup to the competition allowed for breakfast and dinner to be served warm, with MREs available for lunch.
On those days, Edwards would be up and ready to go by 5 a.m., perform a safety preventive maintenance check on their vehicle, undergo a rapid COVID-19 test, drive to pick up the food and drinks, return, help set up the serving area, serve the food, and return containers to the dining facility. In between, there was constant sanitizing and cleanup. The morning meal process took approximately five hours every day.
Dinner was the responsibility of Sgt. Ethan Johnson, combat medic, Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic, who volunteered for the task.
When asked about challenges, Johnson paused and said, “Can’t think of any real challenges, because the workup was well thought out.”
This proved true in all areas of support as the PHA-H team provided constant assistance with whatever the activity-filled tactical operations center needed. The list of requirements was long as the TOC prepared to receive the competitors, who arrived from Germany, Korea, Louisiana, Kansas, Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia, as well as three Soldiers stationed in Hawai’i.
The BLC took place July 25-30. During the event, BLC competitors overcame mental and physical obstacles, traversed through water, an obstacle course, shooting, land navigation, and a mystery event.
But this was just another step for the winning Soldiers, who will go to compete at the Army’s Best Warrior Competition this fall.
Now that the competition’s over, for the PHA-H support staff it means going back to their regular schedules with the knowledge that they were instrumental in making the event a success.
Regardless of the task assigned from picking up and transporting people or supplies, to administered rapid tests, they performed admirably, according to Patrick.
“The NCOs of PHA-H executed flawlessly in the prevention and spread of COVID-19 for the MEDCOM Best Leader Competition,” she said. “Their professionalism and dedication supports the initiatives of a Ready Medical Force and a Medically Ready Force. “