Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Army Depot Shifts Gears to Assist Local Health Care System

May 20, 2020 | BY Dorie Heyer, Army

Letterkenny Army Depot's upholstery shop in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, recently switched gears from its military mission to produce personal protective equipment for a local health care system.

WellSpan Health officials reached out when they learned Letterkenny's upholstery shop was making masks for the depot workforce. It didn't take long for the depot to configure its diverse capabilities and adapt procedures for the new project to create 70,000 isolation gowns for the health care organization.

While it is a shift from the tents and vinyl products the shop routinely repairs and produces in support of defense programs, this public-private partnership that helps the local community prepare and respond to COVID-19 is a win-win endeavor, said Army Col. Greg Gibbons, the commander of the Letterkenny Army Depot.

"As part of the Army's Organic Industrial Base, Letterkenny is prepared to respond when the nation calls," Gibbons said. "Part of that response is flexibility — and we're proud to provide a solution for our local community."

Without missing a beat or losing focus on mission readiness, Letterkenny Army Depot's Manufacturing and Fabrication Division Chief George Coble said directorates across the depot worked to reallocate resources and staff the upholstery shop with 36 employees who began production May 1.

"As a result of our capabilities, we can adjust to changing requirements, and this is what we have done," Coble said. "We can support the warfighter while pivoting to support the health care industry during this state of pandemic."

Public-private partnerships allow the Army's Organic Industrial Base facilities like Letterkenny Army Depot to manufacture or sell products or services to the private sector. However, such a partnership with the medical community is unprecedented, said Dale McClanahan, the chief of business development for the Letterkenny Army Depot.

"This is not our normal course of business, but we are honored to be able to assist the local medical community," McClanahan said.

Letterkenny Army Depot is the organic maintenance facility that provides overhaul, repair and modifications for tactical missile air defense systems, electric power generation equipment and various military vehicles, support systems and protection programs. It was established in 1942 and is a government owned and operated industrial installation.

(Dorie Heyer is assigned to the Letterkenny Army Depot.)

During COVID-19 Crisis, California Guardsmen Prepare for Wildfires


As the COVID-19 crisis continues, so does the threat from wildfires that can flare up across California. Over the past few years, the state has been hit by a series of devastating fires that have destroyed communities and taken dozens of lives. In 2018, the Camp Fire in Butte County was the deadliest in California history, killing 86 people.

Several hundred California National Guardsmen are activated for humanitarian missions in response to COVID-19. They've been assisting food banks, providing health screenings and medical support, setting up shelters and serving as linguists. Meanwhile, preparations for wildfire season are also underway.

More than 100 California guardsmen were on Camp Roberts, San Miguel, California, for hand crew training May 11-15 with military crew advisors from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as CAL FIRE. The advisors instructed the guardsmen on several wildland firefighting subjects such as team organization, safety skills, driver's training, using fire shelters, chopping logs and digging trenches.

The guardsmen who participated in the training were organized into five hand crews that will augment Task Force Rattlesnake teams in Fresno, Monterey, Auburn and Redding, where they will clear potential wildfire fuels and be on call to serve as hand crews in support of CAL FIRE operations.

''We're doing proactive prevention,'' said Army Maj. Robert Langston, the commander of Task Force Rattlesnake. ''We're doing wildfire fuels reduction to protect vital infrastructure and augmenting first responders.''

On May 14, Army Spc. Jonathan Botting from the 235th Engineer Company used a Pulaski hand tool to cut a fire break with fellow crew members on Camp Roberts as part of the hand crew training. He said he was proud to be serving on a hand crew and looking forward to helping out during fire season.

''I think it's going to be a great experience, both physically and for the camaraderie,'' Botting said. ''It's a good group. We already have a good bond.''

Hand crews are critical to helping CAL FIRE contain wildfires. The work is arduous, often requiring hikes into remote areas wearing personal protective equipment and carrying gear. The crews mop up fires, put out hotspots, cut trenches and fire breaks and remove brush and other wildfire fuels.

''My soldiers are up for the challenge,'' said Army 1st Lt. Michael Lyons, a platoon leader in the 235th Engineer Company, and a civilian firefighter in Sacramento. ''They're built to perform.''

Army Sgt. 1st Class Alben Camaya, from the 235th Engineers, is the noncommissioned officer in charge of one of the hand crews. He said the first two days of classroom training were a little stressful, but his troops were happy once they were out in the field.

''We, as combat engineers, we love to train in the field,'' Camaya said. ''We love hard work.''

This year's training was a little different because of the extra health and safety measures due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The guardsmen wore masks when in close proximity to each other and maintained social distancing.

''COVID has proposed challenges to us to adhere to the guidelines set by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],'' said Damon Godden, the CAL FIRE division chief. ''The Guard has stepped up to collaborate with CAL FIRE to adhere to the guidelines through frequent washing of hands, social distancing, wearing masks and separating crews.''

Eighty of the California guardsmen participating in the training at Camp Roberts were soldiers from the 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the 49th Military Police Brigade. Twenty-one Airmen from all five California Air National Guard wings participated in the training. In addition, six California State Guard members were on the hand crews — a first for the organization.

On May 14, Army Col. Richard Mifsud, the commander of the 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, visited Camp Roberts to check on 35 of his soldiers assigned to the hand crews.

Mifsud's brigade will supply six force packages of 80 soldiers each over the course of this fire season.

''In California, we've got experience with fires, floods and earthquakes,'' he said. ''With COVID-19, it's a different type of disaster in a disaster-rich state. It's delayed our training a bit, but we’ll be ready for fire season.''

Army Lt. Col. Leslie Palmer, the commander of the 40th Brigade Support Battalion,  was with Mifsud visiting the troops.

''As the BSB, we've done hand crew training before,'' Palmer said. ''Our soldiers have been wanting to get involved. We had more volunteers than positions. The fact that they're out here, I'm immensely proud of them. They're hard chargers.''

Mifsud said that the California National Guard and CAL FIRE have developed a great relationship.

''In emergency management, it's all about relationships,'' he said. ''By maintaining a great relationship with CAL FIRE, we're able to supply them with personnel to meet their needs and they supply us with firefighting equipment, and together we're able to protect our communities in the state in which we serve.''

(Army Capt. Jason Sweeney is assigned to the California National Guard.)

Dover AFB to Serve as Key Hub in COVID-19 Fight


Given its strategic location, assets and capabilities, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware will serve as the East Coast hub for Transport Isolation System decontamination in the United States.

The TIS, as it's known, is an infectious disease containment unit designed to minimize risk to aircrew members, medical attendants and the airframe, allowing in-flight medical care for patients being transported.

Airmen will support and decontaminate TIS units used in conducting COVID-19-positive patient transport missions from Africa, Europe and the Middle East to the United States. In the ongoing fight against COVID-19, two TISs, along with trained medical airmen, arrived at Dover Air Force Base on April 30.The team is composed of service members from six different units from across the United States.

"The airmen and infrastructure of Dover Air Force Base are vital to the TIS mission," said Air Force Col. Matthew Jones, the commander of the 436th Airlift Wing. "This is a total force effort between active duty, reservists and civilians. This team stands united against this shared threat, and we remain ready to deliver when called upon."

The TIS emerged as a result of mobility requirements identified during Operation United Assistance in support of the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

"We have two TIS modules here, because that is a standard configuration [in an aircraft]," said Air Force Maj. Mark Dellinger, the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron training flight commander. "Each has the capability of carrying four patients.”

Medical personnel assigned to the TIS mission receive training, including familiarization with the system, patient loading and unloading procedures, donning and doffing personal protective equipment, simulated in-flight patient care and infection control procedures.

"The health and safety of our warfighters is paramount," said Air Force Capt. Travis Parrott, a 3rd Airlift Squadron C-17 pilot and stage representative for Dover Air Force Base TIS decontamination operations. "The TIS enables the Department of Defense to transport patients afflicted with or suspected of an infectious disease like COVID-19 from overseas to the United States, providing for an expedient recovery of its personnel, as well as preventing the spread of COVID-19 to aircrews."

Health protection policies have been established at Dover in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Defense Department, in addition to local and state public health assessments.

As part of the whole-of-government response to COVID-19, the TIS mission at Dover will continue for as long as required.

"With this mission, Dover Air Force Base is ensuring not only the safety of our mobility airmen, but also the readiness of our military as a whole," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Sam Barrett, the 18th Air Force commander. "I am grateful for all the hardworking Dover airmen who are helping keep our entire force healthy during the battle against COVID-19."

(Air Force Senior Airman Christopher Quail is assigned to the 436th Airlift Wing.)