Over 400 Soldiers from the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve cycled through the Fort Hood Deployment Readiness Center at North Fort Hood, April 5, after being cleared and released from a Department of the Army mandated 14-day quarantine upon returning from overseas deployments.
Typically, the demobilization process for units returning from overseas takes up to 14 days. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting usual mobilization and demobilization operations, leaders among the DRC, 120th Infantry Brigade and Hood Mobilization Brigade had to find ways to alter the established processes and reduce the time it takes to send troops home.
“Normally, it takes anywhere between five to eight days,” Herman Toro, director of the Fort Hood Deployment Readiness Center, said. “Once they came out of quarantine, the commander’s intent was 24 hours and a wake up, and that’s what we are meeting right now.”
To meet that intent, Toro said they evaluated the possibilities of having the quarantined Soldiers do some of the demobilization steps virtually using tablets and other methods of technology. For that to happen, the 120th Infantry Brigade provided iPads and cell phones to the Soldiers for conducting health assessments virtually with medical providers or consolidated finance briefings while still in the quarantine zone.
“The 120th Infantry Brigade provided the quarantined units with cellular phones which helped because some Soldiers did not get good reception up at North Fort Hood,” Maj. Bob Chestnut, the current operations officer in charge with the Hood Mobilization Brigade, said. “These phones allowed the medical providers to call them and ask them questions in regard to their Periodic Health Assessment.”
The PHA has a two-step process, the first of which requires Soldiers to complete an online questionnaire about their health. Chestnut said the Hood Mobilization Brigade set up laptops in a specialized computer lab to provide the Soldiers access to military websites essential for completing the process.
With most of the demobilization requirements completed while in quarantine, the home-bound Soldiers only had a few stations to visit before completing their out-processing.
“After coming out of quarantine, these Soldiers only need to attend three stations, the separation history physical examination, finance and personnel,” Chestnut said. “This whole process was planned to be quick and efficient to where the Soldiers are getting out in 24 hours.”
Ensuring a quick and efficient change to the out-processing system meant a significant amount of coordination had to happen among the combined Fort Hood installation directorates. To make this revised process a reality, Hood Mobilization Brigade Soldiers and Toro’s DRC personnel, comprised of Soldiers and civilians, had to work together for long hours, even over the weekend.
“In order to make this all happen, it requires the enterprise partners to work seven days a week, at least eight hours, if not 12 hours, a day, just to make sure we can meet the timeline that the commander is anxious to meet, in order to get these folks back to their families,” Toro said.
As the Indiana National Guard Soldiers from the 38th Infantry Division completed their final steps to go home, they were looking forward to reuniting with their families after being away for nine months while serving abroad.
“It’s very gratifying, it’s nice to know we have completed our service,” Brig. Gen. Steven King, deputy commanding general of support for the 38th Inf. Div., said. “Equally important, it’s nice to know that when we go home, we are going home with a clean bill of health. That we are not leaving from a deployment location, a potentially a high-risk location, and taking something home to our families. That brings a lot of satisfaction and peace of mind.”