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Drill sergeants don PPE to receive new trainees at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston

By Tish Williamson | U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence Public Affairs | April 26, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

More than 150 recent graduates of Basic Combat Training, or BCT, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, were transported in a contracted commercial airplane to begin training at the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, or MEDCoE, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, as part of the Army's efforts restrict community contact with the trainees between duty stations due to COVID-19 concerns.

Two civilian airplanes landed at JBSA-Kelly Field April 24, carrying Soldiers who have been in a so-called "protective bubble" of training at Fort Jackson for the past several months. Each trainee was screened for COVID-19 as a new recruit before being sent to basic for at least 10 weeks.

Prior to being released to MEDCoE, the Soldiers were screened daily for the last 14 days and one final time just prior to the flight departing Fort Jackson. There were no stops en route and the only contact with the community was with the flight crew who were also screened and wore cloth face coverings as a protective measure.

Upon arrival at JBSA-Kelly Field, drill sergeants assigned to MEDCoE’s 32nd Medical Brigade donned personal protective equipment to screen each trainee in a hangar to ensure they were symptom-free.

When trainees passed screening at arrival, they were allowed to board sterile buses bound for JBSA-Fort Sam Houston to begin their Advanced Individual Training in varying medical military occupational specialties to include combat medics, respiratory specialists, and medical logistics specialists. Every aspect of the Soldier's travel was designed to limit contact with the community to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Soldiers were able to travel in this highly controlled fashion, rather than commercial flights, as an exception to the Department of Defense stop movement policy that was extended April 20 to avoid the potential spread of COVID-19 within the military.

This is the first time trainees have arrived via a chartered flight for training at the MEDCoE though the organization conducted a controlled air movement to transport graduating trainees from JBSA-Fort Sam Houston to their follow-on duty stations with the same type of control measures earlier this month. The current stop movement policy will be reviewed every two weeks and is expected to be in place until June 30.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Bullis, a drill sergeant, trains AIT 68W combat medics and helped screen the new Soldiers.

"This is an important situation for all health care providers and this is actually a unique situation for them (the trainees) because they are getting ready to enter into the healthcare field,” he said. “Helping them understand the pandemic situation and how to prevent further spread, I think, will help them get into the right mindset when they enter training.”

MEDCoE trains, educates and inspires nearly 30,000 soldiers in more than 360 training and education programs annually that include everyone from combat medics, doctors, surgeons, nurses, veterinarians, dentists, physical therapists and physician assistants to medical evacuation pilots, food inspectors, medical technicians, and hospital administrators.