Trainees with 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment listen to the unit chaplain during a recent service. The trainees are separated with enough distance between them as part of Fort Jackson Social Distance Training Environment. (Courtesy Photo)
By Leslie Ann "LA" Sully Fort Jackson Public Affairs
Secretary of the Army Mark Esper made the decision April 6 to temporarily stop the movement of new recruits to basic training. His decision is aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 by making it easier to perform social distance training.
This social distance training environment is nothing new to Fort Jackson. The post has been practicing it during training before the pandemic was announced.
“We took precautions early because I knew we would have to deal with this,” said Lt. Col. Randall Wenner, commander of 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment. “We have done things here that have protected the rest of the Army.”
According to post leadership, Fort Jackson has an obligation to continue training and maintain readiness, but it must also place the health and wellness of its members first. To balance these requirements, Fort Jackson is maximizing outdoor training events such as ranges and field exercises that naturally allow for social distancing.
“We need to stay in the field in the open air as much as possible,” Wenner said. “I look at the training schedule to find times where we can have troops stay in the field overnight as well.”
The unit also limits bus time used, by having troops march out to the field.
Another way to limit the amount of time spent indoors is to have trainees get a to-go plate from the dining facility and bring it back to the battalion area where they can spread out to maintain safe distancing.
“Gloves are worn to get the containers and the containers are sanitized before everyone eats,” Wenner said.
The units who do eat in the dining facility have made adjustments.
“When we eat inside, we sit trainees in every other seat and increase the distance between each of them while they stand in line,” said Lt. Col. Jason Dudley, commander of 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment.
Wenner’s battalion is in their eighth week of Basic Combat Training which means the battalion has a full load of trainees. There are battalions on post who have less than a full load, but they still practice the same social distancing.
“We are using space literally to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Staples, commander of 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment. “I now have platoons with the average size of 25 trainees compared to previous ones of 60. This makes practicing social distancing much easier inside.”
Staples cautions everyone to stop and think about any activity you are doing or asking someone else to do. “Anything that might bring people to naturally gather together such as going to pick up their gear or handing out meals needs to be deliberately thought out,” he said.
Some classes normally held inside are being moved outdoors. Battalions are also keeping all internal doors open to minimize the amount of touching of door knobs.
For the barracks, social distancing has meant moving some bunks to the center of the bay.
“Typically those areas would be left free of bunks, to facilitate classroom-style instruction, but this movement allows us to space the traditional two rows of bunks along the walls, into three rows,” Dudley said. “We have also increased frequency and intensity of bay maintenance cleaning.”
Things are changing daily and Fort Jackson will continue to adapt.
“As with any new challenge, there will always need to be a few adjustments made until we find the best course to take,” Staples said.
He is confident we are doing just that. “America has a history of solving big problems, it’s what makes our country so great and on a level all to itself.”