By Lt. Col. Alexander L. Carter
| Deputy Garrison Commander, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort McCoy | Oct. 9, 2020
Fort McCoy Deputy Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Alexander L. Carter observes training areas of the installation Oct. 6, 2020, while flying on a Wisconsin National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter over the installation. Carter became the garrison deputy commander on Aug. 31, 2020, and quickly engaged in helping the post achieve pandemic training success through planning action, support of safety protocols, and more. (U.S. Army Photo by Scott T. Sturkol, Public Affairs Office, Fort McCoy, Wis.) (Photo by Scott Sturkol)
U.S. Navy recruits walk to their barracks Oct. 1, 2020, at Fort McCoy, Wis. The Navy’s Recruit Training Command (RTC) of Great Lakes, Ill., worked with the Army at Fort McCoy so the post could serve as a restriction-of-movement (ROM) site for Navy recruits prior to entering basic training. Additional personnel support from the Navy’s Great Lakes, Ill., Millington, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., sites deployed to McCoy to assist RTC in conducting the initial 14-day ROM to help reduce the risk of bringing the coronavirus to RTC should any individual be infected. More than 40,000 recruits train annually at the Navy’s only boot camp. This is also the first time Fort McCoy has supported the Navy in this capacity. Fort McCoy’s motto is to be the “Total Force Training Center.” (U.S. Army Photo by Scott T. Sturkol, Public Affairs Office, Fort McCoy, Wis.) (Photo by Scott Sturkol)
Military vehicles are staged for training operations Aug. 27, 2020, at Fort McCoy, Wis. Thousands of service members completed training at Fort McCoy after training resumed with safety protocols for the COVID-19 pandemic were put in place. (U.S. Army Photo by Scott T. Sturkol, Public Affairs Office, Fort McCoy, Wis.) (Photo by Scott Sturkol)
Soldiers at Fort McCoy, Wis., for training operate Humvees in a convoy Aug. 27, 2020, at the installation. Thousands of service members completed training at Fort McCoy after training resumed with safety protocols for the COVID-19 pandemic were put in place. (U.S. Army Photo by Scott T. Sturkol, Public Affairs Office, Fort McCoy, Wis.) (Photo by Scott Sturkol)
ROTC Cadet Mason Boucher with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point ROTC program and other cadets participate in field training Aug. 13, 2020, at Fort McCoy, Wis. Dozens of ROTC cadets from seven universities trained at Fort McCoy for 10 days in early August in a special training exercise that was created because of the loss of previous training opportunities for cadets because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army Photo by Scott T. Sturkol, Public Affairs Office, Fort McCoy, Wis.) (Photo by Scott Sturkol)
Policy 38, “Risk Mitigation Guidelines and Requirements for Training Units to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)”, built on the post standards outlined in Policy 37 but was more prescriptive to commands and units preparing to travel to Fort McCoy throughout 2020. The policy applies to all Army components and joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners, whether conducting training at Fort McCoy or staying on the cantonment area.
The policy mandates that all training units incorporate specific risk mitigation measures in all planning, preparation, and execution of training as part of their deliberate risk assessment and management to protect the health and well-being of their units and the greater Fort McCoy community. The garrison commander signed the policy into effect in June, and it will remain in place until the installation returns to HPCON Normal.
First, the policy requires that no later than 14 days prior to the start of the training, units must submit a completed risk-assessment form provided by Fort McCoy and signed by the first commander (O-6 or equivalent) in their chain of command. Normally, the commander at any echelon of command would have the authority to sign the risk assessment, but the garrison made the change to drive greater leadership engagement and awareness, given the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat.
Second, the policy mandates that commanders conduct pre-movement COVID-19 screening and temperature checks, completed by a certified 68W (medic) or civilian health-care professional), at their home stations before departing for Fort McCoy. A process map was provided to help the unit medic or health-care provider determine which actions to take depending on a Soldier’s screening results. Only Soldiers who do not test positive, display no symptoms, and record temperatures of 99.4 degrees or less should be authorized for movement.
Third, upon arrival at Fort McCoy, first-line supervisors are required to conduct daily health monitoring, the results of which would be reported to the garrison. If a unit fails to properly report its status, the garrison would suspend its training until the unit submits the required paperwork without errors.
Fourth, units training at Fort McCoy are required to follow CDC and Army measures for COVID-19 mitigation, such as keeping 6 feet apart at all times, including in lines and waiting areas. All personnel are required to wear face coverings if the 6-foot distance is not possible.
The 6-foot separation requirement also apply to billeting arrangements. No gatherings greater than 10 people are authorized without a 6-foot separation. Commanders are directed to comply with any additional mitigation efforts a facility or organization implements, such as distance markings on floors or an all-building mask requirement.
Fifth, commanders are directed to minimize nonessential face-to-face interaction with the garrison and tenant workforce. CDC guidelines and other general health information relating to reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 were included in the policy as separate enclosures.
When Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels was sworn in as the chief of Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command, in the summer of 2020, her priorities were clear. In her first day in command, she wrote to all Soldiers, civilian employees, and families of the Army Reserve that “resuming collective training is our goal — I will rely on leaders at all levels to make prudent risk decisions as we progress from virtual to in-person and increasingly more complex collective training and exercises.” Readiness, she said, remains paramount in order to employ the necessary capabilities to win the future fight.
After the resumption of summer training on July 7 on Fort McCoy, the post supported an average of 4,300 military personnel each week for individual and unit-level training and pre-mobilization or mobilization activities. During this time, the installation supported a number of major training exercises, such as Operation Ready Warrior, Operation Desert Dragon, and the U.S. Army Reserve Command’s Best Warrior Competition.
The installation provided direct support to a large medical unit preparing for an upcoming deployment and hosted Army ROTC units as they conducted numerous field training exercises. Lastly, Fort McCoy entered into an agreement with the Navy to provide the Navy’s Recruit Training Command a location to house recruits in a “restriction of movement” status.
This allows the Navy to monitor and evaluate recruits for COVID-19 symptoms before attending training at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill.
Despite these high training numbers, the installation recorded an average 0.22 percent positive COVID-19 test rate in the training population, according to DPTMS. In this same period, regional positive-test rates ranged from approximately 0.5 percent to approximately 11 percent, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Wisconsin rates ranged from approximately 3 percent to approximately 10 percent and national rates ranged from approximately 4 percent to approximately 9.5 percent, according to John Hopkins University.
Credit for this very low infection rate, despite the large training output, must go to the unit commanders and their first-line leaders, who were key to enforcing garrison policies.
Fort McCoy is an example of an installation that was able to meet large-scale demands for training through the development and implementation of a new, innovative post policy that resulted in helping to ensure that 21,000 personnel were able to come and train and achieve a level of readiness at Fort McCoy safely and effectively.
What happened at McCoy is instructive for other commands and garrisons that are considering resumption of large-scale training commitments. These policies and practices should be considered by any Department of Defense installation struggling with how to operate and train safely and effectively under this new normal.
Training has and always will be the pathway to readiness, and Fort McCoy, like other garrisons and installations across the Army, is a support platform for commands and units to attain the level of individual and collective capability necessary to fight and win.
Fort McCoy’s COVID-response protocols and policies must be considered for tailoring and adoption across the Army at other training installations grappling with supporting training requirements in a pandemic environment.
As Fort McCoy anticipates a larger training footprint in fiscal year 2021, the garrison command team and the support directorate leadership are confident that the policies in place will continue to decrease risk, allowing for commands and units to conduct training on the installation with a high degree of confidence and assurance.
Fort McCoy will continue to enforce proven, disciplined policies, and procedures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection amongst the formations that train there.
Operational excellence, even under COVID conditions, must be viewed as a continuing journey rather than a destination.
Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”