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NEWS | Feb. 4, 2021

Workforce briefing: COVID-19 shaped 2020; Fort McCoy workforce proved resilient, did well

By Aimee Malone Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office

Garrison Commander Col. Michael Poss highlighted Fort McCoy’s flexibility and resilience during the annual workforce briefing, which was held virtually Jan. 19 over Microsoft Teams due to gathering size and social-distancing restrictions put in place by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Fort McCoy garrison commander provides an update every January to the workforce about the installation. The update provides a review of what was completed on the installation over the previous year and also gives workforce members an idea on future plans, ideas, and missions.

Much of 2020 was shaped and influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Fort McCoy was no exception. Poss highlighted the actions that Fort McCoy personnel took to help keep employees, service members, and the surrounding communities safe.

“Certainly 2020 had its challenges, but one thing is evident: Fort McCoy team members are flexible, adaptive, and resilient,” Poss said. “I am thankful for all your efforts and proud of your contributions.”

The Installation Emergency Operations Center was activated, providing updates and briefings to leadership about changing conditions, both within and outside of Fort McCoy. The Directorate of Emergency Services jumped into action, training additional military personnel to serve as backup if needed and implementing personal protective measures to help safeguard community members.

“I appreciate everything they do,” Poss said. “They are on call 24/7, 365.”

Much of the workforce converted to telework, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Resource Management Office, the Directorate of Human Resources, the Installation Legal Office, and Information Management Office, Poss said.

“This is part of being flexible, creative, and adaptive in this new environment,” Poss said.

After initially shutting down due to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria, facilities run by the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation began developing plans on how to safely operate. Rumpel Fitness Center shut down 24/7 access, increased equipment spacing, and reduced capacity as well as implemented additional sanitation measures. Child and Youth Services facilities reduced classroom capacities and changed pickup and drop-off procedures.

“Some of the first questions I was asking (upon arrival) were what do we do in order to open up our services in a safe and effective manner?” Poss said. “And one of the first things we looked at, that opened up, was the Child Development Center. … That allowed the parents an opportunity to provide their kids a safe place so they could go to work. … Certainly things had to be modified, but our CDC team was up for the case.”

McCoy’s Community Center initially reopened by offering take-out only, then switched to reduced hours, increased table spacing, and new cleaning procedures. Pine View Campground changed its check-in procedures to allow contactless check-in and provided delivery service to campsites from its camp store. Whitetail Ridge had the most time to prepare, being a seasonal facility, and was ready for the 2020-2021 winter season with equipment sanitation measures, outdoor ticket sales, and outdoor warming stations and restrooms.

Fort McCoy tenant organizations also adjusted quickly to the pandemic, Poss said. The Exchange and Fort McCoy Commissary both began ordering additional supplies; limiting purchase amounts to ensure all patrons had a chance to buy necessary items; and implementing new sanitation and safety measures, including requiring masks and installing plexiglass guards at registers.

Then-garrison commander Col. Hui Chae Kim also approved a temporary policy allowing additional personnel to shop at the Fort McCoy Commissary and Exchange to ensure essential personnel had access to needed supplies. Poss continued this policy upon his arrival in June 2020.

Training came to a halt for many months due to stop-movement orders, but Fort McCoy rallied in the fourth quarter, Poss said. Training resumed in July with increased safety measures. Units coming into Fort McCoy were required to prescreen unit members for COVID-19 symptoms and continue daily screenings while at the installation.

Unit members were required to follow the guidelines for any buildings visited or services used, including wearing masks, washing hands upon entering, or following markings designed to ensure physical distancing. Units were also required to quarantine and provide care for any unit members who began showing symptoms of COVID-19 while at Fort McCoy, limiting the risk of spreading COVID to local communities or overwhelming area health care facilities.

“To get this training back and keep it going was a huge effort, but we thank the (Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security) team for that,” Poss said. “I like to think of the COVID environment as no different as any of the other environments the Army must operate in, such as at night, in a chemical environment, in bad weather conditions, or degraded communications and cyber situations.”

With these measures, Fort McCoy was able to train 60,054 troops from across all services in fiscal year 2020, Poss said. Some of the training highlights included the Cold Weather Operations Course early in the year, before the pandemic hit; Operation Ready Warrior, which replaced an annual Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) for Soldiers; the Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition, which Fort McCoy accommodated when its usual venue had to cancel; and the mobilization of the 228th Combat Support Hospital.

Fort McCoy also began coordinating with the Navy’s Recruit Training Command (RTC) to provide barracks and dining facility space to accommodate RTC’s restriction of movement (ROM) detachments for new Sailors starting their basic training. The ROM helps decrease the possibility of new Sailors bringing COVID into basic training by quarantining them for two weeks.

Poss spoke about the importance of community relationships. While a number of community engagements were curtailed due to COVID-19, Fort McCoy still hosted area leaders and participated in community events when possible, such as coordinating with the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center for a Veterans Day event.

“We also ask our employees — our Soldiers, our civilians, and all members of Fort McCoy — to consider participating in our communities and also volunteering,” Poss said. “This is our way of giving back. This provides that mutual inclusion and mutual appreciation.”

The garrison command team also highlighted the year’s volunteer efforts, such as the holiday food drives for Tomah and Sparta and the mask-making efforts led by Army Community Service volunteers in the early months of the pandemic.

Another significant accomplishment in 2020 was completion of the planning phase for the next five-year strategic business plan, 2021-2025, said Deputy to the Garrison Commander Brad Stewart, who also spoke during the briefings. A pamphlet outlining the primary tenets of the strategic business plan, called “Our Strategy for Success,” was distributed to Fort McCoy employees in 2020.

Project Inclusion, the Army’s diversity and inclusion initiative, will continue to be a focus moving forward, Poss said. The initiative coordinates with existing programs in the Army and Department of Defense, including Equal Opportunity, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, and suicide prevention.

“If you listen and communicate with respect and understanding, I think that can solve a lot of things,” Poss said. “We want you to know that you have the ability to take ownership at the grassroots level to make a positive change, including volunteer efforts. This all leads to an equitable and inclusive environment that empowers our workforce — a diverse workforce.”

Training plans are already in place for the remainder of the year, with the new safety measures in place to help mitigate risks. A number of exercises will be returning in 2021, including the Best Warrior Competition, Warrior Exercise, Global Medic, and CSTX.

“So, bottom line: Fort McCoy is resilient, confident, and dedicated,” Poss said. “We want our employees informed, empowered, and (to know) their opinions matter. We also want to provide clarity on policies, processes, roles, goals, and priorities.”

Poss also discussed accomplishments, awards, and more by multiple garrison directorates, offices and agencies, and reviewed continued infrastructure improvements and construction.