As COVID-19 began to spread across the world in early 2020, Fort Campbell leaders, Soldiers, civilian workers and others prepared to battle an invisible enemy.
Even before cases began to appear in nearby communities, work was underway to protect the force at Fort Campbell, its Families and workers.
The World Health Organization declared a public health emergency for the virus Jan. 31 and by March 9, the Centers for Disease Control reported it had spread to more than 100 countries, including the United States.
Colonel Jeremy D. Bell, Fort Campbell garrison commander, hosted a Facebook Live Town Hall March 4, to provide information about COVID-19 and urge Soldiers and Department of Defense employees to get approval from their supervisors before traveling to some areas to help mitigate risks.
In March, Fort Campbell upgraded the installation’s Health Protection Condition Level to Charlie in line with directives from the Department of the Army.
“We’ve been preparing for this type of situation for quite some time,” Bell said on the video. “Fort Campbell, in coordination with Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, as well as the 101st and our tenant units have been reviewing all of our existing public health emergency plans and we have developed a response and protocols specific to the coronavirus.”
Colonel Troy Prairie, chief of primary care at BACH, urged people with symptoms to stay home. Prairie shared the benefits of frequent handwashing, staying six feet away from others and coughing into sleeves, rather than into hands.
In June, Fort Campbell’s HPCON level was downgraded to Bravo.
Protecting Soldiers and their Families
In April, the Department of Defense released guidance stating all individuals on DOD property, installations and facilities must wear cloth face coverings when they can’t maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers.
Masks are still required, except when consuming food and beverages in dining facilities and food courts, while alone in individual rooms or workspaces, while conducting physical training in fitness centers or for children less than 2 years old.
Masks are still considered the No. 1 way to prevent the spread of the virus when around others.
In the spring, BACH opened their COVID-19 Clinic that included a clinic area, computer system and special triage hotline.
The clinic was operated by 48 nurses from outlying clinics across the installation who volunteered for the mission.
“They wanted to come here. They weren’t afraid of the pandemic,” said Angela Strohl, clinical nurse officer-in-charge of BACH’s COVID-19 Clinic. “They knew this was a mission that had to get done and they just said ‘Sign me up. We need to take care of our Soldiers.’”
At that time, nurses had supported testing of more than 1,500 beneficiaries and coordinated care and support to those who tested positive.
A drive-thru COVID-19 testing station also was established.
While visiting BACH in July, Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy recognized several Soldiers and a Department of the Army civilian for efforts in the Army’s COVID-19 response. Regional Health Command-Atlantic leadership also visited BACH in the summer to observe their COVID-19 operations.
“The BACH team is doing an incredible job keeping the division medically ready and keeping beneficiary health care in check,” said Brig. Gen. Paula Lodi, RHC-A commander.
Many difficult decisions, such as canceling 2020 Week of the Eagles, were made to protect Soldiers and their Families.
“The health of our Soldiers, our Families, and our veterans must remain Fort Campbell’s top priority,” said Maj. Gen. Brian E. Winski, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell.
Other events such as the annual Spartan Race also were canceled.
A fully engaged garrison
Despite the pandemic, the garrison never stopped working or providing services to Soldiers and Families. While under mission essential manning and increased safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus, the garrison’s vital mission of supporting Soldier readiness remained a constant and its personnel are an important part of ensuring success.
Because every individual played an important role, whether on the frontlines or working in support, the Fort Campbell Courier published “COVID-19 Heroes,” a series that highlighted garrison employees and their contributions to the installation’s seamless response to COVID-19.
Featured employees included Patrick S. Zimmer, operations and maintenance branch chief, Directorate of Public Works, who jumped into action by filling in for personnel who self-identified as high-risk for COVID-19.
“This is my obligation, my purpose and my passion,” Zimmer said.
James Visger, range operations specialist, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, stepped up to the plate as the only mission essential manning capacity member of the Range Safety team.
James E. Parks, lead operations specialist, DPTMS, took on the task of setting up the quarantine and isolation facilities on post.
Employees from the Directorate of Emergency Services; Morale, Welfare and Recreation; Kalsu Replacement Company, and BACH also were showcased in the series.
Throughout the year, Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office and other partners worked around the clock to keep everyone informed. Twenty-three town halls with a COVID-19 focus were hosted by Fort Campbell leadership. Of those town halls, 21 were aired on Facebook Live.
The staff established and maintained a dedicated COVID-19 webpage in addition to using multiple other sources to inform the community.
Fort Campbell Schools
Fort Campbell schools were closed March 16 and students began virtual learning.
In the spring, the Class of 2020 celebrated their academic accomplishments with a graduation parade and a virtual graduation. Later in the summer, graduates and their immediate Family were invited to attend an outdoor graduation ceremony.
“While this year has certainly not turned out the way you thought it would, rest assured that you will never forget it,” said then Fort Campbell High School Principal Kimberly Butts during the cermony. “In addition to finishing the year in virtual learning, your class has many impressive accomplishments.”
Fort Campbell schools successfully reopened for the 2020-21 school year Aug. 24 amid the ongoing pandemic.
This effort was made possible through teamwork between Department of Defense Education Activity and Fort Campbell. The expertise provided by Fort Campbell staff and public health officials from BACH were part of the vital partnership established to provide a safe environment for Fort Campbell’s students to learn, said Christy Huddleston, DoDEA Americas Southeast District superintendent.
Huddleston visited Fort Campbell schools the first week of August to observe operations.
Subject-matter experts from the Installation Safety Office; the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; and BACH toured each school with principals and their safety teams to evaluate their COVID-19 mitigation strategies. The experts provided each school team with recommendations for potential improvements, Huddleston said.
The initial work in planning to safely reopen schools informed the development of standard procedures to mitigate the spread of the virus to include transition back to remote learning when warranted.
After the winter break, students temporarily returned to remote learning.
Fort Campbell’s DFMWR managed to lift the spirits of Soldiers and Families by adapting their programs to accommodate COVID-19 safety precautions.
In the spring, DFMWR staff set up outside Robert F. Sink Memorial Library several times to host Grab-and-Go Brown Paper Bag Craft Giveaway drive-thru events.
A few months later, MWR hosted another drive-thru event, the Magical Car-nival Kids Fest, as a delayed Month of the Military Child observance.
“Everyone on the team loved this. This is our passion,” said Stacye Downing, DFMWR director. “Taking care of kids and celebrating them is what we all enjoy. It takes everybody to put one of these events on.”