JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- More than 100 First Corps Soldiers returned Oct. 1 from the Indo-Pacific Theater of operations 100% COVID-free after a four-week series of Joint Force exercises.
Ultimately, close coordination with host nations, prudent medical advice, and discipline across the formation in accordance with COVID-19 mitigation measures contributed to this significant achievement.
This complex mission involved deployments by air and sea to multiple islands across the Indo-Pacific, participation in two distinct joint exercises, and integration with sister service units from multiple other locations. Throughout the exercise, First Corps units accomplished dozens of training objectives and exercised strategic readiness while maintaining a unit safety ‘bubble.’
Prior to deploying across the Indo-Pacific to support missions in Guam and Palau, First Corps Soldiers observed a 14-day quarantine at home station. Then Madigan Army Medical Center facilitated a 100% drive-through COVID testing for all deploying Soldiers to minimize contact within 72 hours of departure. The unit provided this testing documentation to the government of Guam and Republic of Palau, in accordance with local policies.
Throughout the deployment, participating personnel adhered to strict COVID mitigation measures, including wearing masks at all times outside of the living space and social distancing in public spaces. Joint partners followed the same guidelines.
Soldiers respected host government guidance and restricted their movement to work and living spaces. The unit avoided contact with anyone outside of the unit in an effort to protect the civilian population.
“We closely monitored Soldier health at every step of the deployment to identify potential symptoms early,” said Capt. Chandler Rochelle, 17th Field Artillery Brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Battery commander. “Our team took Soldiers’ temperatures twice daily at the Entry Control Point and disinfected work stations at night. We created a seat roster during deployment and redeployment, and mapped Soldiers’ work spaces to facilitate contact tracing, if it became necessary.”
Robust contingency planning was critical to identify the right locations for isolation and coordinating with the appropriate medical personnel in the event of an outbreak. When one Soldier presented an elevated temperature, they immediately transitioned into isolation. Only after two negative COVID test results did the Soldier re-integrate into the force.
The unit employed a similar strategy during redeployment operations to limit exposure to anyone outside of the unit. Soldiers wore masks to protect flight crews and entered into another quarantine immediately upon return.
As a redundant measure to protect the participating Soldiers’ families and local community, Madigan Army Medical Center facilitated COVID testing for all of the unit’s redeploying Soldiers. Test results revealed the unit remained 100% COVID-free.
“This is an exciting moment that marks the Army’s ability to deploy in support of strategic operations, as part of the Joint Force, while simultaneously validating procedures to stop the spread of COVID,” said Col. Brandon Anderson, 17th Field Artillery Brigade commander. “We are committed to defending our partners and allies across the Indo-Pacific, while also protecting our families at home.”