Sgt. 1st Class Donald Castelow, a senior drill sergeant in Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, outlines changes to Basic Combat Training methods brought about to combat the spread of COVID-19. (Leslie Ann Sully)
By Robert Timmons Fort Jackson Public Affairs
The Army adapts to face new threats and working during the COVID-19 pandemic is no different.
Sgt. 1st Class Donald Castelow, a senior drill sergeant in Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, and a panel member on the latest virtual town hall, recently described how those changes are affecting Basic Combat Training on Fort Jackson.
First off, he said the morning routine has changed.
“Every morning at 5 a.m., trainees line up for a toe-the-line procedure,” said Castelow, who was also recently interviewed for an article in The State newspaper. Cadre use a social distancing technique of staggering the line to increase distance between trainees. A drill sergeant then conducts a temperature check.
“We are checking to make sure their temperatures are under 100.4 and they are showing no signs or symptoms for any type of COVID threat,” Castelow said. “If they are, we move that trainee away from training and down to the Troop Medical Clinic.”
The sleep bay is also configured differently now to adhere to social distancing. The bunks now half empty are spread 12 feet apart and separated by 8-foot wall lockers. When recruits began shipping again to BCT, training battalions only filled to 50%.
“Here in my bay, I can house up to 60 human beings, but during this cycle, I only have 30 human beings so I can maximize social distancing,” Castelow said.
According to Army policy, trainees must get two hot meals per day during training, meaning they would have to eat in the dining facility often. Now in the social distance training environment trainees are eating at least two ‘Hot A’s’ a day. These meals are short for A-rations, or perishable/frozen type entrees brought hot to the field in insulated mermite storage containers.
“That way we are not constantly bringing the trainees through the dining facility that then creates more areas be to cleaned, “ Castelow said. “It creates a great safe bubble.”
Practices have changed when utilizing the dining facility. “In normal operations, we go into the dining facility,” Castelow said. “Now is a COVID environment, we are doing the 2+8 week controlled cycle, when we go into the dining facility, we have really altered our operations.”
Trainees always maintain six feet, double arm intervals in between each other as they enter the dining facility and they skip every other chair as they sit down to eat. “And once they get done eating, they exit the chow hall in a controlled manner that way we don’t bunch up when we are eating in the dining facility,” Castelow said.
Heat injury preparations
Another change brought on by COVID-19 with an assist from Mother Nature is heat injuries. Drill sergeants take a keen interest in preventing hot weather injuries, but now the chances of heat injuries have gone up with trainees wearing face coverings.
As it gets warmer, “especially in April through September, as we move through the heat categories here at Fort Jackson,” Castelow said, “… we bring things like ice sheets, water immersion tanks, and extra ice (to training) but now with the new COVID threat and the 2 + 8 weeks cycles, we have more risk mitigations in place.”
Regulations have always required a hand washing station wherever trainees are outside the company training area and each platoon brings a designated cleaning bin.
“The bin comes with CaviWipes, hand sanitizer and any extra types of wipes that we will need,” Castelow said. “Also with the water immersion tanks, we have the extra bleach to clean out each tank and the hand sanitizer station is always near our water source.”