After a rocky start, U.S. Army basic training officials now say they have significantly reduced the backlog of trainees waiting to move safely through the training pipeline despite pandemic conditions.
It's been two months since the Pentagon issued a forcewide stop-movement order, which halted graduating Basic Combat Training (BCT) classes shipping to advanced individual training (AIT) bases.
Lt. Col. Anthony Forshier, commander of 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, had to keep trainees on hold while Army Center for Initial Military Training officials figured out how to transport troops in sanitized buses and later planes.
In late March, the Army shipped hundreds of trainees from Jackson to an AIT site at Fort Lee, Virginia, while another group of sterile buses transported new soldiers from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to AIT at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
Now, shipping times to AIT have dropped from weeks to days, Forshier said in a recent Army news release.
"It only takes us around four days to go from 'Yes, you're going' to actually flying," he said in the release. "It's a relatively quick turnaround now.
"We started with 1,900 trainees, and today we have around 500."
It's not easy, but Jackson officials have streamlined the process for sanitizing every surface on chartered buses and planes to Centers for Disease Control and Army Preventive Medicine standards, according to the release.
"It's a lot of small details, but there are 10-15 people behind the scenes working those things," said Command Sgt. Maj. Algrish Williams, of 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, in the release. "It's been all hands on deck."
Army officials decided to temporarily halt shipping recruits to BCT in early April to refine the safety procedures and testing efforts at each of the initial-entry training centers at Jackson; Sill; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Before the two-week pause, the service cut the number of trainees it ships each week from 1,200 to about 600 to allow them to be spaced farther apart in the barracks. In addition, training centers have started a 14-day "controlled monitoring" phase of BCT, where groups of up to 30 new trainees are kept separate from others, in case any of them develops COVID-19 symptoms in that time period.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.