FORT BLISS, Texas –
When the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded this year and many phases of life were put on hold in the name of curbing the spread of the coronavirus, the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, was faced with a challenge: How does the busiest Mobilization Force Generation Installation in the Department of Defense continue to deliver personnel for contingency operations over five continents, but do it safely in respect to the current public health conditions.
“We had no time to prepare for COVID -- it kind of followed us here,” said Lt. Col. Freya Parker, the 7239th Medical Support Unit executive officer, whose Army Reserve Medical Command unit is part of the current Fort Bliss Mobilization Brigade, a collection of units and organizations tasked with deployment and redeployment needs of troops and civilians at Bliss.
As of May 7, 2020, Soldiers and civilian customers have returned to the SRPC. Among other new measures, customers can now expect to be socially distanced in all possible cases, everyone entering the facility is required to wear a face covering, medical technicians frequently sanitize equipment and high-touch surfaces, and due to the SRPC’s high processing rate, customers are also screened away from the site for coronavirus symptoms before starting their tasks within the facility. In-house technicians are also continually screened and queried for any COVID-19 symptoms at the beginning and end of their respective workdays.
In 2019, the Fort Bliss SRPC validated and processed almost 50,000 deployers and re-deployers -- an average of approximately 130 individuals per day -- 365 days a year.
Parker said since the 7239th MSU uncased their colors at Fort Bliss from Chattanooga, Tenn., in February, they haven’t known anything but coronavirus mitigation operations implemented into an already heavy task of supporting deployers and re-deployers at Bliss. Reserve commands like Parker’s mobilize for one-year orders to continue the validation authority mission along with a Reserve component regional support group.
“We don’t have a baseline to know what was normal before,” she said. “We were one of the first [units] to apply the mitigation methods; the wearing of the masks, the social distancing. With assistance from building operations here, the 648th RSG, they helped us formulate plans to protect ourselves, the people who work in this building, as well as the service members who count on us for readiness checks.”
Despite the challenges of arranging a post World War II facility to offer the space needed for effective coronavirus mitigation, Capt. J. Shamel Bodden, the SRPC Operations executive officer, credited two things in the team’s ability to flex at this point: experience and trust.
“There was a lot of support from the chain of command -- from the installation command down to the RSG, they know we have a lot of experienced [noncommissioned officers] who have been here before and have the experience,” he said, referring specifically to adopting measures similar to prescribed CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives) protocols.
The Fort Bliss SRPC is currently in the process of moving into a 90,000 square foot facility elsewhere on West Fort Bliss in order to meet the growing MFGI demand.
Bodden said the SRPC team understands what is at stake when it comes to deployment and reintegration support that occurs without delay, while also doing it safely for customers and technicians alike.
“We’re being proactive on getting everybody screened, social distancing, and making sure our staff here keep from getting sick and the people coming through keep from getting sick as well,” he said. “The mission always has to continue. We’re always going to process people, whether it be Monday through Friday; Saturday. The mission is always going to be there -- to get in and out as fast as possible. We have a good team here.”