The panel at the Fort Rucker COVID-19 Facebook Live town hall March 16. (Photo by Jim Hughes)

The panel at the Fort Rucker COVID-19 Facebook Live town hall March 16. (Photo by Jim Hughes)

Fort Rucker Public Affairs Staff Report
May 17, 2020

FORT RUCKER, Ala. — Key senior leaders at Fort Rucker held a Facebook Live virtual town hall March 16 to discuss concerns and precautionary measures being taken amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event, led by Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, also included Col. Whitney B. Gardner, garrison commander, Col. Jimmie Tolvert, Lyster Army Health Clinic commander, Command Sgt. Maj. Brian N. Hauke, Aviation Branch command sergeant major and John Henderson, Civilian Personnel Advisory Center director.

Francis said his reasons for hosting the event were to provide the latest updates from the Department of Defense and the Army on efforts being made to stop the spread of COVID-19, provide guidance on what people can do to assist in those efforts, and provide an avenue for the community to ask questions.

“Right now we have zero cases of COVID-19 at Fort Rucker,” Francis said. “Much of this is common sense: social distancing, exercising proper hygiene, and sanitizing and washing hands are truly some of the biggest things we can do to keep this disease from spreading.

“Our focus here at Fort Rucker is threefold,” he added. “First, we want to take all of those actions necessary to protect our Soldiers, families and employees at Fort Rucker. Second, take care of mission – flight training primarily. And third, it’s important we work with surrounding communities where we all live, work and play – it’s important we work together with the these communities to stay safe.”

The general then discussed Department of Defense, Army and local precautionary measures taken that ran the gamut from: stops on PCS and TDY moves; to Fort Rucker schools closing until at least after spring break; to the child development centers restricting access to childcare to people in life, health and safety missions: Directorate of Family, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility closures; to continuation of flight training; and more. For questions regarding specific DFMWR activities, please contact DFMWR.

“Local schools on Fort Rucker will not be in-person classes – students will not be at the school,” Francis said. “They will do Google classroom work with teachers. The intent is to not have the kids come to class until March 30 when spring break starts. After spring break, we’ll continue to evaluate that – right now it’s our goal to reopen after spring break as that 2 ½ weeks gives time for someone who is sick for that to run its course. We think we have a shot at coming back to school after spring break, but I haven’t made that decision and we will continue to reevaluate that as this crisis continues.”

Addressing the child care restriction, he said he “knows that is going to put some people in a pinch and we’ll have you work with your chain of command on that,” he said.

He also discussed DOD’s stop move order that affects “all Soldiers, families and civilians on DOD orders to move somewhere,” he said. “If you’re on PCS orders and have not left Fort Rucker, you’re not moving. If you’re on temporary duty at Fort Rucker, you’re not moving. If you’re TDY at another location and attempting to return to Fort Rucker, you’re not moving. The approval authority to change that is at the Department of the Army level. As we get more guidance, we will update you.

“There will only be leave and passes in the local area – restricted to 100 miles,” he continued. “The underlying intent behind all of this is to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so we don’t have people going elsewhere and bringing it here, or have people going somewhere else and spreading it there.

“Please use your chain of command if you have a significant issue that is causing you significant strife of some sort,” Francis said. “I know there are many folks in many different situations who need the chain of command’s help, and we will bend over backwards to help you. This is not a normal situation and what I pledge to you is we will work through every situation together and come up with the best outcome that we possibly can.”

Gardner added that the situation is rapidly changing and everything going on at Fort Rucker is under constant scrutiny on if it is the right thing to keep the post family safe.

“We’re attempting to evaluate the threat outside the gates and inside the gates, and continuously talking to other installations, especially garrisons in Korea and Italy who have been successful so far in preventing the spread of the disease and protecting their force on post,” he said. “We’re studying their playbooks, and evaluating what we can execute now and what actions we can potentially take in the future if conditions deteriorate in a major way.”

He said the commissary and post exchange both remain open for their normal hours.

“We ask you to be courteous to your fellow shoppers and limit you purchases to what you need,” he said. “We need to ensure everyone gets their essential items so they don’t have to go on a treasure hunt off post and possibly get exposed.”

Gardner added that further updates will be provided for on-post religious services. “We will have more updates as we develop that plan, and determine locations and mediums to conduct those services.”

Tolvert also gave information on how the disease is spread, personal actions people can take to decrease their chance of exposure and other actions the clinic is taking.

“Starting (March 17), Lyster is going to start screening people outside the clinic,” the colonel said. “(When you) come to the clinic, you will answer three questions, get your temperature taken and if you are exhibiting any of the signs or symptoms, we’re going to take you somewhere else and further evaluate you and make sure you get the care that you need.”
He also advised that people in the higher-risk population, such as people with heart and lung diseases, weakened immune systems or who are over the age of 60, that they “should seek immediate care as soon as you become sick with these respiratory symptoms.”

“Lyster is committed to a culture of excellence, we are here to meet your healthcare needs and we are here for you,” Tolvert added. “Please continue to treat everyone like family and we will get through this together.”

Francis and the panel also addressed a multitude of questions from those observing the event on Facebook Live about personal circumstances. The full version of the video is available at https://www.facebook.com/ftrucker/ and leadership highly encourages all Fort Rucker people to view the video to be fully informed.

The almost 50-minute video provides viewers with about 20 minutes of explanation of the situation from the five leaders followed by roughly 30 minutes of answers to questions asked by those who submitted questions in advance or participated live. The video received more than 30,000 views, more than 500 likes, 234 shares and more than 1,000 comments in the 12 hours after airing live.

The garrison commander said he was happy with how the town hall went.

"I thought with this being our first virtual town hall ever held here at the USAACE and installation level, it was very successful as it went off with no major issues,” Gardner said. “I think we will build upon this one, and continue to improve the process and have it available for future events."

While wrapping up the town hall, Francis said he understands not everyone on post was able to view the town hall live, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still get answers to any questions they may have.

“I encourage you all to address questions with your chain of command, as well,” the general said. “I would also tell you that this is a rapidly evolving situation and we’re getting some rapidly changing guidance as this evolves.

“What I pledge to you is we will keep you informed, updated and, as required, we will stand up this forum again if we feel there (is a need),” he added. “We will work through this together. This is what we do in the Army, we face challenges and we get after it, and we’ll do no different on this challenge, as well.

“I would ask for the cooperation of all you, with travel, with reducing you exposure, and asking yourself, ‘Can I do it? Maybe. But, should I do it? Should I travel, should I go out to dinner, should I have my family come visit me – is it really the right thing to do giving the seriousness of this issue?’ I would ask all of your cooperation in doing the right thing,” he said.