Coronavirus: U.S. Combat Aviation Brigade quarantines after arriving in Germany

About 250 soldiers assigned to the 101st Airborne Division’s 101st Combat Aviation Brigade have arrived in Germany for a nine-month rotation as part of the regionally allocated forces supporting Atlantic Resolve. When fully deployed, the brigade consists of about 2,000 personnel, 50 UH-60 and HH-60 Black Hawks; 4 CH-47 Chinooks; 25 AH-64 Apaches; and more than 1,800 wheeled vehicles and pieces of equipment. During Atlantic Resolve, the brigade will be training alongside forces from Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

By ARMY SGT. ALLEEA OLIVER
SOURCE: U.S. DoD

This will be the sixth brigade-sized rotational aviation unit to support Atlantic Resolve, which is designed to build readiness, increase interoperability and enhance the bonds between ally and partner militaries with multinational training events, officials said.

“The hard work from these soldiers really helped set the conditions for what’s going to be an incredible deployment for the Wings of Destiny,” said Army Col. Travis Habhab, the commander of the 101st CAB. ”We are on our way to build readiness overseas, become a more lethal unit, increase the capability of our partners and deter enemy threats. Our soldiers have started off at a great pace. I am confident that their hard work will continue throughout the next nine months, and they’re going to make everyone in the 101st proud.”

Prior to arriving in Europe, the brigade conducted a rigorous train-up, including individual and crew skill tasks, gunnery qualification and multiple training exercises at the National Training Center and the Joint Readiness Training Center while simultaneously combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

”Coronavirus threw things off a little bit, but we were able to adapt and overcome,” said Army Maj. Jay Berger, the executive officer for 101 CAB. ”[We] were practicing social distancing … and proper sanitation while we were conducting our train-up to come here. We had to get a little more creative with some of our key training events, but overall we maintained our readiness and timeline to deploy.”

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the brigade will spend two weeks at Camp Kasserine in Grafenwoehr, Germany, isolated in small groups, before moving to forward locations alongside allies and partners.

“With COVID being both present in the United States and Germany, we wanted to make sure, for our host nation partners, that we do not bring any infections into the area,” said Army Lt. Col. Benjamin Ingram,the brigade surgeon for 41st Field Artillery Brigade, 7th Army Training Command. “Right now [Germany] is decreasing in the number of COVID cases, so we are testing 100 percent of the 101st soldiers, or any other soldier coming into our area of operations for summer training, for COVID-19 followed by a two-week quarantined period to make sure we do not have any false negative tests.”

The soldiers were transported by contracted buses from Albrecht Duerer Airport Nurnberg to Camp Kasserine to decrease any chances of cross-contamination. Upon arrival, combat medics assigned to 41st Field Artillery Brigade immediately briefed the incoming soldiers on the camp’s procedures, provided medical sheets for them to keep track of their symptoms over a 14-day period and conducted COVID-19 testing.

The 7th Army Training Command structured the camp into four separate areas made up of tents and amenities such as laundry, showers and hot chow for each location. Each soldier is given 72 square feet of personal space as well as access to physical fitness resources available on a scheduled basis. The soldiers are separated into the small groups according to the date of their arrival, so if a group tests positive for the virus, it would not affect the remaining soldiers.

“The first and foremost important thing is [ensuring] force health protection,” Ingram said. ”If we find out that someone is a carrier of COVID-19, we can identify them early, and anyone else they may have affected, and put them in isolation to help protect the larger force, which ensures we are combat deployment ready.”

Despite being isolated for two weeks, the 101st CAB is eager to conduct multinational training in Europe for the next nine months. The unit will have plenty of opportunities to hone their skills during the rotation.

“Everyone’s excited to be here for this rotation,” Berger said. ”We are excited to link in with our partners and host nations here and to increase our interoperability amongst our NATO allies. The 101st Airborne Division has history over here in Europe… [I’m ready] to train and focus on readiness for us and our host nations partners and interoperability to make us all stronger.”

During the two weeks spent in isolation, the aviation brigade plans to conduct lower-level, individual training such as Sergeant Time’s Training. “[Training] didn’t stop back in Fort Campbell, and it won’t stop now,” Berger said. ”We are still mission-focused.”

Although the world paused for a moment due to the outbreak of COVID-19, U.S. Army Europe’s efforts to increase interoperability and strengthen the NATO alliance and partnership between the U.S. and host nations did not.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented world problem which has been difficult for every nation in the world to tackle,” Ingram said. ”The fact the United States Army and the entire Department of Defense has been able to continue to be world-wide deployable, to meet missions and find ways to do this really testifies to the amazing things the men and women in uniform can do.”

The deployment of ready, combat-credible U.S. forces to Europe in support of Atlantic Resolve is evidence of the strong and unremitting U.S. commitment to NATO and Europe. Through bilateral, joint and multinational training, Atlantic Resolve builds readiness, increases interoperability and enhances the bond between ally and partner militaries.

(Army Sgt. Alleea is assigned to the 7th Army Training Command.)