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NEWS | June 3, 2020

Providing realistic training during COVID-19

By Sgt. 1st Class Patrick W. Biggs First Army Division West

As the U.S. Army balances global operations while combating COVID-19 on the home front, the Nation continues to need a manned and ready force. This need for a manned and ready force has Army Reserve and National Guard units continuing to answering the Nation’s call. However, the outbreak has drastically changed the standard operating procedures for mobilizing units.

Opportunities for training have changed due to the threat of the virus. Training efforts are no longer a “one-size-fits-all solution.” While the Army aims to resume collective training, the 120th Infantry Brigade, a Multi-functional Training Brigade in Division West and subordinate units are following Department of the Army and Center of Disease Control guidance on preventative measures to limit and stop the spread of COVID-19, while also conducting culminating training events, or CTE. The CTE is designed to prepare both National Guard and Army Reserve units with strategic planning efforts and capabilities necessary to support national military strategy during peacetime, contingencies, and war. Conducting a CTE during a pandemic, brings about many obstacles. Precautions taken to ensure personnel safety included temperature checks, wearing masks, and social distancing.

The 2-395th Brigade Support Battalion, 120th Infantry Brigade led a 7-day CTE for the 297th Regional Support Group. The 7-day CTE helped the unit prepare for their upcoming mission to Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The 7-day CTE held at North Fort Hood, Texas started on May 21, 2020 and ended May 27, 2020. Division West and the 120th Infantry Brigade continue to maintain and exceed standards to insure units are more than capable of succeeding during their deployments.

This type of exercise normally requires up to 80 personnel, but due to COVID-19, the exercise was reduced to 30 in an attempt to lessen the congestion amongst service members to reduce and eliminate the spread of COVID-19. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, remaining flexible and refining collaborative tools are just a few ways in which the 120th Infantry Brigade is turning obstacles, into opportunities.

2-395th BSB Exercise Project Officer Maj. John Manuel stated, “The CTEs we are executing here on Fort Hood are the final opportunities that deploying U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard units have to train and come together as a team before deploying overseas.” The requirements to get Soldiers trained and deployed forward has not diminished during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Combatant Commanders are relying on Division West and it’s training brigades to ensure that units are arriving fully trained and ready to assume their missions immediately. Manuel went on to say, “As an Exercise Design Team, it is business as usual. We are committed to providing the same quality and standard of training to the deploying Soldier as we always have.”

The COVID-19 restrictions create a need for alternative training methods. Division West trainers now utilize creative methods for delivering both in-person and virtual training. Among other new measures implemented by Division West, Soldiers can now expect to be socially distanced in training environments. Everyone entering a Division West training facility are required to wear a face covering and frequently sanitize equipment, hands, and high-touch surface areas.

While mitigation efforts help protect one another from the spread and contraction of COVID-19, the mission must continue. 2-395th Exercise Project Officer, Maj. Paul Karbley, stated, “We are always going to process deploying units, whether it be Monday through Sunday. The mission is always going to be there, and it is our job as observer coach trainers, or OC/T, to successfully prepare these units, no matter the challenges that lie ahead.”

Capt. Sarah Vander Zanden, a senior OC/T with 2-395th, said, “Through the BSB’s modernization efforts, this has contributed immensely to the overall success of the mission. It has allowed our staff to telework from home, communicate with our chain of command, conduct synchronization meetings, interact with Fort Hood agencies, and collaborate with our Subject Matter Experts while limiting our exposure to COVID-19.”

This opportunity has allowed the 120th Infantry Brigade and Division West the ability to continue to make CTEs and other training exercises relevant and realistic, even during a global pandemic.