Feature   Defense News

Cactus COVID-19 Task Force Protects Reserve Force

Oct. 8, 2020 | BY ARMY MAJ. DINO DE LA HOYA

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the operational and training landscape throughout daily activities and mission sets. As operations continue, leaders plan and implement policies and procedures. These efforts help to ensure the health and safety of the force, while maintaining readiness to be prepared for the next fight.

A soldier wearing a face mask takes the temperature of another soldier wearing a face mask.
Temp Check
Army Spc. Conner Pettinger, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), performs a temperature check on his supervisor, Army Sgt. Robert Hwang, at their headquarters building in Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 1, 2020. For COVID-19 safety considerations, Pettinger is one of the Cactus soldiers assigned to perform daily temperature screenings of all personnel entering the building.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 201001-A-OM535-693M

The 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Headquarters and Headquarters Company, recently came home from a nine-month deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. While deployed, cactus soldiers underwent COVID-19 safety practices, ensuring their safety upon redeployment. However, they also came back to a very different U.S., where COVID-19 created socioeconomic impacts that continue to affect us to this day.

Upon return, the 103rd ESC created a "Cactus COVID Task Force" in July, the first of its kind throughout the ESCs. The task force's mission is to mitigate COVID-19 risks throughout its regional support groups, sustainment brigade and numerous reserve centers, impacting more than 7,000 soldiers. This important and proactive approach is focused on protecting the force, preventing the spread and maintaining strong readiness levels across the force.

Army Col. Tomika Seaberry, assistant chief of staff, support operations officer, leads this task force. As the staff lead, she works with a small cadre of soldiers who coordinate with subordinate units, medical staff and higher headquarters elements on an ongoing basis. A day in the life of the task force is comprehensive; it provides training and operational guidance, analyzes COVID-19 local and regional impacts, drafts mitigation plans, provides risk analysis and both disseminates and implements the defense secretary's COVID-19 guidance.

Army Lt. Col. Kelly Bell, nurse advisor, is a key part of the task force. "Being part of this task force has been extremely rewarding," Bell said. "We are all working together to protect the force, that, as a nurse, is my number one priority. The task force is nice because it helps to balance readiness and training needs with health protection. We are able to really collaborate and ensure units' needs are met across the board."

The task force works daily with the ESC headquarters and subordinate elements to ensure that information flows up, down and laterally across its formation. The task force works with logisticians, public affairs, communication specialists, medical professionals, as COVID-19 requires an all-hands approach to keeping personnel and their families safe.

Soldiers wearing face masks having a meeting.
Group Meeting
Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas Habeck, force protection noncommissioned officer in charge, 646th Regional Support Group, Madison, Wis., provides a mission briefing to soldiers assigned to their operations cell, Sept. 10, 2020. Soldiers continue to maintain mission readiness while applying COVID-19 safety considerations during their unit's 2020 annual training.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 201001-A-OM535-694M

Seaberry, as the task force officer in charge, takes these efforts seriously. "While [I was] deployed, several of my family members contracted COVID-19. Even though they are recovering, I was very worried and was unable to come home," Seaberry said. "I needed to stay focused for my soldiers overseas, and now that I am home, I stay focused to ensure our soldiers are safe."

The ESC and task force leverages available resources to decrease soldier exposure for battle training assemblies. This includes virtual battle assembly, drafting exceptions to policies for travel, using telework through Microsoft Teams and ultimately reducing the amount of personnel present at respective reserve centers.

The task force leans forward as the ESC faces new stateside or overseas missions. As the Army continues to fight, the ESC maintains its readiness to ensure it is ready to fight when called upon. The COVID-19 response operation has constituted one of the largest domestic mobilizations in Army Reserve history — in excess of 3,000 soldiers at the height of the response.

"COVID-19 impacts our daily lives, and it is our duty to ensure we do everything possible to ensure the safety of our soldiers," Seaberry said.

The 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) is a U.S. Army Reserve Sustainment command based in Fort Des Moines, Iowa. The command oversees Army Reserve logistics units in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Louisiana. Its headquarters organization is the 79th Theater Sustainment Command, Los Alamitos, California.

(Army Maj. Dino De La Hoya is assigned to the 103rd Sustainment Command).