Fort Benning is vaccinating soldiers – but the Army is also still dealing with the COVID crisis as soldiers test positive and require isolation.
And the virus did not go away when 11,000 soldiers returned from holiday leave.
WRBL News 3 got an exclusive tour of the Fort Benning Recovery Center Thursday morning.
Post officials are trying to turn back the COVID-19 virus. And one of the critical weapons in that fight is the post Recovery Center on Kelly Hill, says Maj. Gen. Pat Donahoe, commander Maneuver Center of Excellence.
“We took a barracks complex and repurposed it, to really to be a medical holding facility,” Donahoe said.
They have to house and feed the soldiers who have been put in COVID timeout.
“These soldiers, the vast majority of them have just arrived at Fort Benning, coming off a plane at the Atlanta airport or a bus at the Greyhound station,” Donahoe said. “And we pick them up, we bring them here and within that first 24 hours we are testing them for COVID.”
The mission is simple – limit the spread of this highly contagious virus as much as possible.
“As we check them every day to see if the disease manifests in them or not,” Donahoe said. “So that keeps the rest of the training mission safe and isolated from a possible vector.”
Lt. Col. Alicia Pruitt is in charge of the 30th Adjutant General (Reception) Battalion. That is where recruits go when they arrive on Fort Benning. And that is where a number of those in the Recovery Center originate.
“It’s the same for over 200 years our Army has taken care of each other as a team,” she said “And we are doing just that. Whether it be in the Georgia woods or the mountains of Afghanistan.”
Lt. Col. Chris C. Choi commands the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, which is operating the Recovery Center. He has been doing it since August.
“This place is very unique because it cares for a very special population, we have here on Fort Benning,” he said.
And the fact that many of them are new to the Army makes the mission even more critical.
“These folks are going through, my god, I am now in the Army. How do I act? What do I do? And at the same time, we are grabbing them and saying come with me,” Donahoe said. “You either have COVID or you have been standing next to somebody with COVID. We are going to isolate, separate you from your training cohort. That is a really significant emotional, spiritual event for a brand-new soldier.”
And it’s one that has required a kinder, gentler approach.
Choi is a combat veteran with multiple tours and his charge to run this facility has been a shift in duties – and mindset.
“We train to fight hard, go through hard times,” Choi said. “And to have to switch our mission set and our mindset to provide an accommodation, hospitality and service and medical treatment mission has been very unique and challenging in its own ways.”