By Brig. Gen. Milford H. "Beags" Beagle Jr. Fort Jackson Commanding General
Daily and weekly, I receive, analyze, process, and report to higher what appears to be an endless number of COVID-19 information updates and briefings. Last week, as I received of one of our routine Fort Jackson updates related to COVID-19, the briefer (Mr. Darryl “Bo” Bowman) Director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, or DPTMS, made the perfect summary statement at the conclusion of a brief that most accurately captures our way forward for Fort Jackson. As we discussed various aspects of Health Protection Conditions (HPCON), Public Health Emergency status, school re-openings, current case rates in South Carolina, our surrounding counties, and our normal summer trainee fill levels, Mr. Bowman’s summation point was perfect. He said “Sir, we need to tighten up, but not lighten up.”
Bo’s point resonated wildly with me and truly stuck in my mind. To most others who hear this statement, it would appear that more talk about COVID-19 is simply a waste of time. People everywhere are feeling saturated with talk, estimates and projections of COVID-19. From network and cable news reports to social media to “cooler talk,” the fatigue, frustration, and desire for COVID-19 to go away is taking over the narrative. The “buzz” is no longer buzz-worthy and has become a tiresome drone. But COVID-19 isn’t tired, and it certainly didn’t take a summer vacation, so for now and into the foreseeable future, we must re-dedicate ourselves to the continuation of fighting the COVID-19 fight.
We by no means have COVID beat or even under wraps; nonetheless, Fort Jackson is certainly giving Mr. COVID-19 a run for his money. I have said it before, and will continue to say it even more as we move forward: We cannot become complacent simply because COVID-19 hasn’t knocked on our door in a major way. We must give COVID-19 the respect that an insidious threat deserves, although many of us have not been affected personally, but mostly because there are many others who have significantly: 146,000 deaths in the United States and almost 1,000 deaths a day recently.
With regard to “tightening up,” Fort Jackson went hard and strict early with our procedures, measures and protocols to protect our force and our mission. To date, our early and aggressive stance has paid dividends. So much so that we have been able to bring certain programs and services back on-line. I refrain from using the term “re-open” because we never closed for business. COVID changed HOW we do things, but with all due respect, it won’t change WHAT we do.
We now have our Child Development Centers, in-person chapel services, gyms, auto craft services, play grounds, and at least one swimming pool back “on-line.” To date, we have collectively accomplished this safely and not increased or contributed to any spike in cases attributable to bringing these services and benefits back on line.
This speaks to our collective discipline, vigilance and respect for the coronavirus and the prolonged impact operating in a pandemic environment has had on our mission and our way of life. My goal is that we continue to sustain our forward momentum. As many of you may have seen in the news and other places, multiple states and cities are stepping back from re-opening initiatives because collective indiscipline is attributable to losing the positive momentum initially gained over suppressing the spread.
The damage that COVID-19 is wreaking on our economy is tremendous, but if we continue to require “step backs” in order to regain momentum, we are simply prolonging this fight. I was once told that “if you don’t have time to do it right the first time, you certainly won’t have time to do it over.”
There is no truer statement, and we have placed a great deal of effort in getting it right the first time at Fort Jackson simply because we don’t have time to do it over later. Based on our road ahead, there are many other challenges on the horizon that we must prepare for: the resumption of school, hurricane and Flu season, and subsequent increase in workforce and family fatigue. Ideally, our goal is to set the conditions to deal appropriately and effectively with each challenge as it comes vs. dealing poorly or haphazardly with multiple challenges over time.
So in this sense, Mr. Bowman’s comment was accurately insightful and prophetic: “We must tighten up, not lighten up!” COVID-19 fatigue, lapses in discipline, and declining vigilance expose the gaps, vulnerabilities, and points of weakness in the defensive plan to protect our Families, workforce and training population from the insidious Mr. COVID-19. Therefore, we must “tighten up” in these areas, double down on the measures that have contributed to our successes to date, and collectively re-commit ourselves to remaining effective in what is proving to be a long campaign to thwart Mr. COVID-19.
No, this is not the time to lighten up. Although we have successfully brought things “on-line” and have fared well thus far in our engagements and battles with COVID-19, things look vastly different across our great nation. We, Team Jackson, are and have been our most valuable and essential asset in the fight, but we could just as easily become our biggest threat. I ask that leaders, Family members, civilians and contractors re-commit to collectively rolling up our sleeves, remain in an active defense, and continue to take the fight to COVID-19. We aren’t spectators in this battle—we are active participants and have been armed with the appropriate public health measures to employ individually and collectively. Please do your part to contribute to winning each engagement and battle with Mr. COVID-19. Don’t “lighten up” - DO “Tighten Up!”
One Team, One Fight, One Family. Team Jackson!