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NEWS | Oct. 6, 2020

Protecting the reserve force: Cactus COVID-19 Task Force

By Maj. Dino DE LA HOYA 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

The novel COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our operational and training landscape throughout our daily activities and mission sets. As operations continue, leaders plan and implement policies and procedures. These efforts help to ensure the health and safety of the force, while maintaining readiness to prepare us for the next fight.

The 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), recently came home from a nine-month deployment to the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility. While deployed, Cactus Soldiers underwent COVID-19 safety practices, ensuring their safety upon redeployment. However, they also came back to a very different United States, where COVID-19 has created socioeconomic impacts that continue to affect us to this day.

Upon return, the first of its kind throughout the ESCs, the 103rd ESC created a “Cactus COVID Task Force” in Jul. 2020. The TF mission is to mitigate COVID-19 risks throughout its Regional Support Groups (RSG), Sustainment Brigade and numerous Reserve centers, impacting over seven thousand Soldiers. This important and proactive approach is focused on protecting the force, preventing the spread, and maintaining strong readiness levels across the force.

Col. Tomika Seaberry, assistant chief of staff, support operations officer, leads this Task Force (TF). As the staff lead, she works with a small cadre of Soldiers that coordinate with subordinate units, medical staff, and higher headquarters elements on an ongoing basis. A day in the life of the task force is comprehensive; it provides training and operational guidance, analyzes COVID-19 local and regional impacts, drafts mitigation plans, provides risk analysis, and both disseminates and implements Secretary of Defense COVID-19 guidance.

Lt. Col. Kelly Bell, nurse advisor, is a key part of this TF. “Being part of this task force has been extremely rewarding,” says Bell. “We are all working together to protect the force, that, as a nurse, is my number one priority. The task force is nice because it helps to balance readiness and training needs with health protection. We are able to really collaborate and ensure units’ needs are met across the board.”

The TF works daily with the ESC headquarters and subordinate elements to ensure that information flows up, down, and laterally across its formation. The TF works with logisticians, public affairs, communication specialists, medical professionals, as COVID-19 requires an all-hands approach to keeping personnel and their Families safe.

Seaberry, as TF officer in charge, takes these efforts seriously. “While deployed, several of my family members contracted COVID-19. Even though they are recovering, I was very worried and was unable to come home, says Seaberry. “I needed to stay focused for my Soldiers overseas, and now that I am home, I stay focused to ensure our Soldiers are safe.”

The ESC and TF leverages available resources to decrease Soldier exposure for Battle Training Assemblies. This includes Virtual Battle Assembly (VBA), drafting Exception to Policies for travel, utilizing telework through Microsoft Teams, and ultimately reducing the amount of personnel present at respective Reserve centers.

The TF leans forward as the ESC faces new stateside or overseas missions. As the Army continues to fight, the ESC maintains its readiness to ensure it is ready to fight when called upon. The COVID-19 response operations has constituted one of the largest domestic mobilizations in Army Reserve history - in excess of 3,000 Soldiers at the height of the response.

“COVID-19 impacts our daily lives, and it is our duty to ensure we do everything possible to ensure the safety of our Soldiers,” says Seaberry.

The 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) is a U.S. Army Reserve Sustainment command based out of Fort Des Moines, Iowa. The command oversees Army Reserve logistics units in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Louisiana. Its headquarters organization is the 79th Theater Sustainment Command, Los Alamitos, Calif.