FORT JACKSON, S.C. (WCBD) – As troops at Fort Jackson continue training to defend against national security threats, they are also actively engaged in defending the post against a COVID-19 outbreak. So far, they are on the right track, with officials reporting more recovered than active COVID-19 cases since April 30, and no hospitalizations.
Early on, officials adopted “stringent protocols designed to prevent, detect, and contain COVID-19 outbreaks.” This includes a thorough regiment of contact tracing, isolating those with possible exposure, and widespread testing. Of the 700 employees working at Fort Jackson, “only 15 have had to be tested due to contact tracing, and all were negative,” according to Raymond Arnold, the project manager for Johnson Food Services LLC, which serves Fort Jackson.
As new recruits arrive to the 120th Adjutant General Reception Battalion, each one is tested before beginning basic training. Captain Samuel Warren said that this process “ensures all trainees who have direct contact with a trainee who is COVID-19 positive are also placed in quarantine prior to starting basic training.”
The recruits are also training under a new model called “2+8” in which training is done “at platoon-level, with trainees who sleep in the same bay so they are exposed to the smallest amount of people possible.” The “2+8” training takes place for two weeks before recruits begin eight weeks of more interactive training. 165th Brigade Commander Col. Eric Flesch said that “basic training is still 10 weeks but this new model helps stop the spread of COVID-19, and if a trainee does have symptoms, the virus can easily be contained.”
In addition to group size, training routines look a bit different for new recruits. The ‘toe-the-line procedure’ takes place morning and night, but is now ‘staggering-the-line’ to allow for social distancing. Officials use this time to take recruits’ temperatures, which must be below 100.4, and check for COVID-19 symptoms.
Precautions are working:
On May 14, the first two soldiers to recover from COVID-19 completed basic training, under the modified procedures.
Pvt. Carlos Mora (21) and Spc. Juan Guajardo (36) say that they have no idea how they contracted the virus, and were immediately quarantined upon testing positive.
“I woke up in the morning and felt horrible, I had a high fever and I had slight pain” said Mora. Guajardo experienced similar, slightly more severe symptoms: “I got a fever, really weak and I had aches. I coughed a lot and when I blew my nose I had red spots.”
Shortly after they entered quarantine, they were “joined by another handful of fellow” 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment members. Mora said that he “wasn’t too bad” and was more concerned for his peers: “others had it worse. It scared me because they were about my age too.”
Following two weeks of quarantine and subsequent negative tests, Mora and Guajardo were cleared to return to basic training, but faced significant physical setbacks. What was supposed to be 10 weeks of basic training became 13. Mora said that it took him “an extra week to breathe right again.”
Unable to make up for the almost three weeks of lost time, they could not keep up with their original company, and were reassigned to the 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment. A bright spot in the otherwise negative experience: no one in their new company tested positive. Lt. Col. Patrick Collins says that “it’s a testament to the safeguards and mitigation measures that we have in place.”
Officials say that they will “continue to take precautionary measures to protect the health and welfare of Army personnel and [their] local community,” while continuing “their mission training new soldiers to need the needs of the Army and defend America.”