20200331 AIT Ship 001 - Copy.jpgA drill sergeant from 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson takes the temperature of a Soldier before boarding the bus to Fort Lee, Virginia. Soldiers have been held over at Fort Jackson since graduating basic combat training due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Mr. Tom Byrd, Fort Jackson Public Affairs)

by Alexandra Shea, Fort Jackson Leader

For some Basic Combat Training Soldiers at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, an early morning formation March 31 to prepare for movement to Advanced Individual Training ended was the beginning of their next step into Initial Entry Training.

The IET Soldiers were from two Fort Jackson training units: the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment and 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment.

“This group (of Soldiers) graduated March 19 when the stop movement was issued the week of their graduation,” said Lt. Col. Josh A. Taylor, 2-13th commander. “Today we are going to ship Soldiers to Advanced Individual Training at Fort Lee, Virginia. It’s a test pilot for U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to show we can safely and securely ship Soldiers to AIT.”

The stop movement order issued March 13 limited domestic and foreign travel for Department of Defense civilians, service members, and their families. The order left the recent graduates in place at Fort Jackson for about two weeks.

“It created a lot of challenges,” Taylor said. “How do we keep morale high, extend Basic Combat Training and ship to AIT?”

While waiting for the buses to arrive, Soldiers were separated enough to keep a proper social distance between them.

We had the trainees “separated anywhere from six to 10 feet apart to do as much risk mitigation as possible,” said 1st Sgt. Cody Posey, with Company D, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. If there is a trainee who may be a higher risk for COVID-19, “it’s better to keep them as far apart as possible.”

The battalion’s drill sergeants stepped up to the challenge and created ways for Soldiers to continue training while allowing additional

freedoms to the trainees who earned the title of Soldier. This included Soldiers stepping into leadership roles to conduct physical training and more detailed training in accordance with the Warrior Task and Battle Drills manual.

Soldiers also spent time cleaning and sanitizing their barracks and company areas to prevent the spread of the virus for themselves, cadre and the next cycle of trainees.

“Lots and lots of cleaning here every day,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Cruz, a drill sergeant with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment. “Everything but the ceiling is getting scrubbed.”

A small group of Soldiers even cleaned the buses that transported them to Fort Lee. Disinfectant spray was used on the seats and armrests while windows, overhead bins, and the doors were wiped with additional disinfectant. Bus drivers were also screened and had their temperatures taken as they arrived and before departure.

Soldiers are excited to take the next step in their careers despite the pandemic.

“I’m really excited to leave,” said Pvt. Richardo Feliciano, an automated logistical specialist with the Puerto Rico National Guard.

Feliciano’s hometown of Juncos, as well as the rest of the island, has been hard hit in the past year with devastating Hurricane Maria, earthquakes and now COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am worried about my mom, she works in a hospital,” Feliciano said. “I’m ready to get back and help my community, Family … everyone.”

While preserving the fighting force is the most important mission for Fort Jackson's leadership, ensuring healthy Soldiers arrive to their AIT sites is another challenge the installation faced.

“There is a lot of pressure added onto what we are doing today because of the current context (COVID-19),” said Brig. Gen. Milford “Beags” Beagle Jr., U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson commander. “We ship 1,100 to 1,300 Soldiers a week. It’s just not under normal conditions. Getting them there safely and COVID-19 free is the goal and I feel very confident.”

Social distancing was enforced throughout the trip. Cadre members traveling with the Soldiers were screened as well. Meals and on-board restrooms were available to the Soldiers and cadre to reduce stops during the trip.

“The health and well-being of our trainees, cadre, civilians and their Families is our number one priority. Protecting the force includes mitigating the spread of the virus by executing strict health protocols at army training centers and during movement between training centers,” said Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, commanding general, U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training. “Our strength through readiness continues to be one of the top priorities for our nation. Continuing training and movement of the next generation of Soldiers is critical to that mission. Our IMT leaders have made great strides in implementing procedures and processes to protect our forces so we can continue the mission.”

Beagle said he believed the mission was a success.

“I think this went well,” Beagle said. “They put the pilot on us first to prove it can be done, we can it do safely and we can do it right.”

Other Basic Combat Training installations since then have successfully transported Soldiers to AIT.