Marine Corps Air Station Futenma --
OKINAWA, Japan – In mid-November hundreds of Okinawa, Iwakuni and Hawaii-based U.S. Marines with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing assembled for exercise Driven Thermite 21, a Wing level Command Post Exercise to validate the Aviation Combat Element Battle Staff’s ability to plan and execute aviation operations within the Indo-Pacific Command.
One of the most difficult aspects of the exercise was the mitigation of COVID-19. This Herculean effort required the application of practices as well as restrictions Okinawa Marines have been utilizing to combat the spread of COVID-19 over the past serval months.
Exercise Driven Thermite 21 required the ACE Battle Staff, operations and exercise cells to work within close proximity to each other for up to 10 days in expeditionary structures. In the age of COVID-19 the precautions required to execute this type of exercise and keep the staff safe provide a roadmap for other units and organizations planning to host similar training.
The first and most important step taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the confined working conditions of DT21 was testing. The 1st MAW Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Chris McPhillips, ordered the 1st MAW COVID Response Cell and surgical staff to test every individual who planned to enter the Tactical Air Command Center compound. This required the testing of over 400 individuals, some of which spent minimal time in the TACC.
“Testing every individual was vital to the conduct of this exercise,” said LT. Kayla McConnell, 1st MAW environmental health officer. “This allowed us to baseline every individual prior to the start. We were additionally, pleasantly surprised that we had zero positive cases.”
The second mitigation step ordered by the 1st MAW CG, was enhanced COVID-19 restrictions. Enhanced restrictions included limiting participants to only essential activities off base and an enhanced emphasis on social distancing. These enhanced restrictions took effect immediately after each individual was tested for COVID-19 and were in effect until each individual completed the exercise. This was critical because the prefecture of Okinawa has maintained the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate within the country of Japan for over two months.
The final mitigation effort was the responsibility of Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 1 and included the application and enforcement of the preventative hygiene techniques that people across the globe have grown accustomed to since the beginning of this pandemic. Temperature checks were required for entry, handwashing stations were spread across the TACC site, hand sanitizer was always within arm’s reach and disinfectant was staged to clean every workstation three times a day.
“COVID mitigation for DT21 started months in advance of the exercise,” said Capt. Stephen Rondone, the MWHS-1 Operations Officer. “We had to account for the protection of hundreds of daily staff members working in a small area. To accomplish this we focused on many of the mitigations we have been practicing since early this year.”
COVID-19 has presented monumental challenges to military operations, training and exercises. We have learned a lot about this deadly virus since it first began to spread across the globe and exercises like this prove that we can successfully mitigate COVID and apply our full potential to military operations without any degradation in combat power.