Initial Entry Training Soldiers wait on board their chartered aircraft to depart Columbia Metropolitan Airport in Columbia, S.C. for Fort Sam Houston Texas May 8. (Photo Credit: Alexandra Shea)
By Alexandra Shea Fort Jackson Leader
The past few months have been unusual for Fort Jackson trainees, cadre and staff members as installation operations have changed to help battle the spread and containment of the 2019 novel coronavirus.
In addition to social distancing of six or more feet and additional cleansing and disinfection of personal living and company spaces, newly graduated trainees found themselves sheltering in place on the post as a temporary stop movement order was issued by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“We have all Basic Combat Training graduates waiting to ship to Advanced Individual training,” said Lt. Col. Anthony Forshier, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment.
Forshier’s battalion became the centralized location to house Soldiers waiting for transportation to AIT while Fort Jackson commanders implemented a plan to ship Soldiers safely.
Through mutual coordination efforts of the Army Training and Doctrine Command and Fort Jackson’s Plans and Operations offices, private charter planes and buses were secured to transport the graduating classes. Each plane and bus was cleaned and sanitized to Center for Disease Control and Army Preventive Medicine standards. Each driver, crew member and pilot screened for virus signs and symptoms as well as their temperatures taken.
“It’s a lot of small details, but there are 10-15 people behind the scenes working those things,” said 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment Command Sgt. Maj. Algrish Williams. “It’s been all hands on deck. I am extremely proud of these Soldiers, Non-commissioned Officers and Officers of this battalion.”
“It’s worth the efforts,” said Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford “Beags” Beagle Jr., during a recent virtual town hall discussing the post’s health and safety measures.
Since beginning the process of shipping trainees to AIT under special circumstances, the precautions have proven successful.
“We have had a 100% success rate of delivering Soldiers (free) of COVID-19,” said Forshier.
While the post is no stranger to shipping hundreds of trainees across the U.S. to AIT sites, ensuring additional health and safety standards and coordinating the transportation did provide a temporary road block that affected not only trainees but cadre members and staff as well.
When the stop movement order was first issued in March, graduating BCT classes were held at the post until the shipping plan was in place. As the plan was implemented, the start was rocky according to Williams. As time progressed, staff and cadre members helped smooth any wrinkles the plan encountered until it became seamless.
“We started with 1,900 trainees and today we have around 500,” Forshier said.
Due to mutual planning and his cadre and staff perfecting the plan in action, Forshier said the time to ship trainees to their AIT sites has dropped from weeks to days.
“It only takes us around four days to go from ‘yes, you’re going’ to actually flying,” Forshier said. “It’s a relatively quick turnaround now.”
Williams said while the heightened safety and health measures ensure the post’s first priority of protecting the force and accomplishing its mission of transforming civilians to professional-trained Soldiers ,it also to helps ease trainee’s Family member’s fears during the pandemic.
“For parents and Family members, just know that your Soldiers are safe,” Williams said. “They are in good hands.”
As shipping processes continue, both Forshier and Williams agreed the process will continue to reduce the turnaround time to ship graduates to AIT.