Some of the division’s brigade combat teams are currently in training cycles and plan to continue visiting various ranges on post while following Center for Disease Control guidelines, leadership said. If virus cases begin to appear, they’ll reassess as necessary.
“The soldiers out in the field conducting collective training is, one, critically important for readiness," said Maj. Gen. Brian Winski, 101st commander, during a town hall event at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. “And, two, the way they’re arrayed and dispersed, they’re fundamentally at less risk than soldiers in garrison or who are traveling and in contact with a lot more people.”
Because there have been no cases in the local area, the risk of contracting coronavirus in the field is minimal, said division Command Sgt. Maj. Bryan Barker.
Post officials have tested roughly a dozen personnel for coronavirus, but have so far not had any positive cases on base or in the surrounding counties. There have been just more than 50 cases about 60 miles southeast of post in the Nashville area, though none involved Fort Campbell soldiers.
“Really, our soldiers have less risk of exposure if they’re out in the field with their platoon, company, battery or troop," Barker said. "That measure itself is reducing their exposure to the greater community. ... They’re actually more secure and isolated in that field environment.”
Additionally, division leadership said soldiers can’t risk taking time off from training if the coronavirus pandemic continues on for weeks or even months.
Soldiers from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade are deploying this June to the Korean peninsula, Europe and Afghanistan, Winski said. Also, the division’s 1st and 2nd brigades are on training paths for JRTC rotations in August and September to prepare for contingency response force duties, he added.
Another 1,500 soldiers out of 3rd brigade are part of the mission to the southern U.S. border. Soldiers down there are contained to the local area, just as soldiers at Fort Campbell are confined to a roughly 80-mile radius around post, Winski noted.
The division’s 3rd brigade also has roughly a battalion-sized element still in Africa conducting a force protection role. Those soldiers will be replaced with another batch from the 101st of roughly the same size in the months ahead.
The gyms on post are also remaining open for the time being.
“It’s important for physical readiness, but we’re going to implement some deep-cleaning procedures there, some limitations on numbers and we’re going to keep it limited to just active-duty service members,” Winski said, adding that physical training will be done in small and dispersed formations.
Indoor physical training events and exercises that involve people being in close proximity are over for the time being.
“We’re not going to see those mass formation runs where you have people breathing heavily on each other,” Barker added. “So no combatives.”
Though no soldiers have tested positive on-post or in the surrounding four counties, quarantine measures have been put in place, just as they have at other bases. Those measures are mostly for soldiers returning from overseas. A barracks near the airfield on base is being used to house soldiers in quarantine.
WiFi is set up for soldiers there and meals from the mess hall are brought to people there everyday. Soldiers who have no signs of the virus but need to enter quarantine can also do so off-base if they have a private residence. If any soldiers ends up displaying symptoms, they would be placed in isolation, though that has yet to occur, the division said.
“I would caveat one thing to all of this,” said division spokesman Lt. Col. Charles Barrett, “this is very rapid and things are changing very quickly.”
During the townhall Monday night, Winski said gatherings should be limited to no more than 50 people for training purposes. Roughly around the same time as that event, though, the president advised Americans not to meet in groups of more than 10.
“That’s how quickly information is changing," Barrett said. Any Fort Campbell-assigned troops or families should visit the post’s coronavius webpage here for the latest updates and guidance.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.