By Jim Hughes, Fort Rucker Public Affairs
May 18, 2020

FORT RUCKER, Ala. — In an effort to reduce the possibility of incoming Soldiers and family members exposing the on-post or off-post communities to the COVID-19 virus, the post recently set up a quarantine facility to serve as a screening area for inbound Soldiers until further notice.

A former barracks building, Bldg. 315 near Lyster Army Health Clinic, is now where incoming Soldiers come to be screened before in-processing, according to Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander.

"We are closely tracking and communicating with those Soldiers who are inbound to Fort Rucker on PCS orders or who are coming in for training," he said. "We are really very sensitive to those who are coming from Level 2 or 3 areas as they pose a higher risk of exposing people to the virus than Soldiers coming from other areas."

A staff of about five military personnel division Soldiers will handle the initial in-processing and screening of incoming Soldiers and their families at Bldg. 315, Ann Nollett, MPD chief, said, adding that measures are in place to keep the staff safe and monitor their conditions.

Signs are posted on the marquees at each gate, and also externally at Bldg. 5700, including on all exterior doors, directing new Soldiers to report to Bldg. 315, Nollett added. "It's important people read the posted signs."

New Soldiers will be provided an administrative screening questionnaire, and based on those results, or if they are coming from a Level 2 or 3 area, they will report to Lyster Army Health Clinic for medical screening.

"Once cleared through medical, they will begin the normal process of in-processing – getting received by their unit and being taken care of," Gardner said.

Those who don't clear the process will be quarantined for 14 days – single Soldiers in the Bldg. 315 barracks rooms and families at the lodging cabins at Lake Tholocco, providing they don't already have on-post housing arranged, Gardner said. If they do have on-post housing already, then they will quarantine in those quarters.

"We're trying to keep those who are coming on to Fort Rucker from Level 2 or 3 areas contained on post until we know if they've been exposed to COVID-19 or not," Gardner said. "We want to keep them on post and within these several areas so we lessen the possibility of any of our on-post community members or off-post community members getting exposed to the virus. We're doing our best to ensure we limit the spread of this disease as much as we possibly can."

Fort Rucker intends to take good care of the Soldiers and family members who find themselves quarantined at these facilities, including providing basic items, linens, food delivery and also free WiFi, he added.

"I think they're going to be very comfortable," Gardner said, adding that units will also help out with taking care of their new Soldiers, as necessary.

The garrison commander added that he has personal experience with living as a Soldier under quarantine. “I lived 22 days in quarantine at Fort Bliss (Texas) 5 years ago when I returned from Liberia as the aviation task force commander fighting Ebola. I’m well aware of the challenges being under quarantine represents.”

Gardner added that military policies surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are fluid, and that allowances are being made at higher echelons to keep Soldiers PCSing and reporting for training whenever possible. "We are expecting to release folks to move on to either return from training or move on to their next duty station, so we will expect to see Soldiers inbound to begin training," he said.

"We are doing everything we can to mitigate the risk of exposure to our community."

Creating the quarantined areas was a challenge at Fort Rucker, the colonel added.

"One of our greatest challenges at Fort Rucker is our lack of flex space here," Gardner said. "We're at max capacity for training and temporary training barracks. Our No. 1 request for military construction dollars is for a new AIT Complex and our three-year plan to upgrade and modernize barracks for advanced individual training and the Warrant Officer Career College. We're growing, and we're feeling the growing pains, especially under these emergency conditions."