Kentucky Soldiers Balance Coronavirus Safety With Mission Readiness

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Between late March and early April, the United States Army reported two people at Fort Campbell near the Tennessee border had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Generals and commanders have been implementing measures to try to keep service members and their families safe, while storied divisions like the 101st Airborne continue to prepare to carry out important missions. 

“We don’t know the timeline associated, but I guarantee we’re gonna come out of this,” LTG Doug Gabram said in a Monday video message to troops at the post. “And we’re gonna treat it like a combat operation so, now, this is a home game.”

 The United States military is in the middle of this “home game” alongside the rest of the country. Instead of a hurricane or tornado, though, where crews can assemble supplies and personnel to give relief from a visible disaster, soldiers on posts like Fort Campbell – which in population and square footage is the size of a small city – are being told to adhere to new sanitation and distancing guidelines to prevent potential virus spread.

“For the majority of soldiers, their place of duty [will] be their barracks or their off-post residence or their on-post residence,” LTC Charles Barrett said in a phone interview. “Our collective training has been reduced, so we’re no longer in the field.”

Barrett added that video training and solo personal training have replaced many traditional forms of instruction and that soldiers are working together on tasks as little as possible. But, he said, replacement parts still need to be installed on vehicles; those vehicles need to be run and tested; and the men and women of the 101st need to be ready – at a moment’s notice – to deploy overseas or domestically. Barrett said some groups may soon be sent to New York to aid the state’s massive effort to treat patients.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the 101st Airborne announced on its Facebook page it was deploying troops to New Jersey to assist with the coronavirus panedmic.

Aside from daily duties, many soldiers live on or off the post with family. CPT Benjamin Jameson says despite the warning from army superiors and loved ones in the medical field that the virus could spread to the US, living through social distancing and health concerns is still stressful. He commands 130 soldiers in a company and says they talk about the burden as well. Communication, he says, is especially crucial right now to complete tasks and maintain mental health.

“The water cooler conversations that you would normally have just, kind of, by accident, don’t exist anymore. So, you have to up the amount of communication and you have to be a little more deliberate with how often you talk to your leaders.”

To destress himself, Jameson takes walks with his wife and one-year-old daughter every day – human moments made more special because Jameson returned in October from deployment to Iraq.