Three weeks after taking command of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, Texas, Maj. Gen. Sean Bernabe hosted his first Fort Bliss COVID-19 Facebook Town Hall as the senior commander, Oct. 22, 2020. (Photo by Michelle L. Gordon, USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office)

New Fort Bliss CG hosts COVID-19 town hall

By Michelle L. Gordon, USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office

Three weeks after taking command of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, Texas, Maj. Gen. Sean Bernabe hosted his first Fort Bliss COVID-19 Facebook Town Hall, Oct. 22, 2020.

Although this was Bernabe’s first town hall as the senior commander, it was the seventh one the Fort Bliss leadership has held since the novel coronavirus emerged in the United States earlier this year. He hosted the town hall to discuss the amended “Fort Bliss Come to Work Safe, Live Safe Order.”

The amended order was published Oct.16, 2020, following a seven-day surge in COVID-19 cases in El Paso, Texas.

Bernabe said the intent of the amended order was to protect the health of the Fort Bliss community, while also supporting and remaining in sync with the latest emergency directive issued by Mayor Dee Margo of neighboring city, El Paso.

Joining Bernabe at the event were Fort Bliss Garrison Commander Col. Stu James and William Beaumont Army Medical Center Commander Col. Mike Oshiki, as well as subject matter experts from the Fort Bliss Directorate of Emergency Services; Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; the Directorate of Human Resources, community housing partner Balfour Beatty Communities, and other leaders from throughout the installation.

“Since my arrival, I’ve been watching the COVID trends very carefully – both in El Paso and here at Fort Bliss,” Bernabe said. “And as you know, the trend lines have been going up, both in the local community and on our installation.”

Oshiki said the four major contributing factors for those rising numbers are: COVID-19-positive individuals not isolating, individuals gathering in large groups without masks or social distancing, mask-wear non-compliance, and individuals not cooperating with contact tracing teams.

The Fort Bliss community was encouraged to post their questions in the comment section of the town hall Facebook livefeed, which was hosted on the Fort Bliss garrison Facebook page. Those questions, as well as the top questions routinely answered by the leadership were addressed live during the 30-minute event.

The top topic was Soldier training – both locally on Fort Bliss and at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Bernabe reminded the virtual audience that, despite the pandemic, training is essential to maintaining Soldier readiness for the wartime mission. He also highlighted some of the measures taking place to ensure it is conducted safely.

“As we send units to the National Training Center, we are testing every Soldier – making sure that they are not COVID-positive,” he said. “Once they arrive there, they are actually in a protective bubble – isolated from outsiders.”

Referencing local training, Bernabe said commanders and command sergeants major are doing a “great job” enforcing physical distancing, face coverings, and hygiene and sanitization, which all contribute to the health and safety of the force.

Other topics discussed included: installation access, operational statuses of on-post gyms, restaurants, and religious services, enforcement of the amended Fort Bliss order, the process for renewing expired Department of Defense ID cards, as well as COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

Despite the spike in cases, Bernabe said he remains impressed and encouraged.

“I’m a relatively new member of the team and a new member of the community, and as I’ve looked at how we’re doing business here at Fort Bliss, I’m very impressed with the discipline, the level of compliance, the cooperation, and really just the team effort to beat this thing called COVID,” he said.

He thanked the Fort Bliss community and asked for their continued cooperation with the standards set in place to help flatten the curve – both on and off post.

The town hall recording is available on the Fort Bliss garrison Facebook page @FortBlissGarrison. Fort Bliss also hosts a virtual COVID-19 update every Tuesday at 11 a.m. on the page to address questions and concerns.

Town Hall COVID-19 Facebook Town Hall Coronavirus