Reserve Soldiers Continue Mission Despite COVID-19

Reserve Soldiers Continue Mission Despite COVID-19

Soldiers working
Photo by: U.S. Army/311th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Facebook

Despite a host of challenges, the first major Army Reserve unit to mobilize as the COVID-19 pandemic set in recently completed a successful nine-month deployment to the Middle East, supporting operations across 13 countries while keeping soldiers safe.

Scheduled to fly to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in March 2020 to support Operation Inherent Resolve, some 250 soldiers from the 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command left in early May as safety protocols to keep the virus from spreading were put in place.

“COVID was the overarching challenge for every single soldier and leader on this deployment,” said Command Sgt. Maj. H.H. George Luedtke, the command’s senior enlisted leader. He said the 311th ESC, headquartered in Los Angeles, was “the first major Reserve unit to mobilize” as the pandemic set in.

“[We] had been [at Fort Hood, Texas,] maybe a week, when COVID really hit and started shutting everything down, so working through that and leading through that was a challenge,” Luedtke said. The unit completed its mobilization training but was held at Fort Hood “because they were still trying to figure out how to move units in and out of theater while meeting the requirements of our host nation countries.”

On the recent mission, which ended with the soldiers’ redeployment in January, the 311th ESC provided mission command to two sustainment brigades and a field support brigade on missions in Kuwait and Iraq, while also providing support to sustainment operations across 13 countries in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

The effects of the pandemic also complicated the unit’s mission to continue the ongoing divestiture of U.S. equipment to vetted Iraqi units and leaders.

“When you’re up there divesting equipment to the Iraqis, the Iraqis have all had COVID, so they don’t mask up and don’t take a lot of the precautions that we take, but obviously we maintained physical distancing and wore masks for all of our engagements and tried to do stuff outside whenever possible,” said Brig. Gen. John Dreska, commander of the 311th ESC.

The mission, he explained, was to issue about $500 million worth of equipment, from air raid towers to medical kits to Humvees, armored security vehicles and “a whole gamut in terms of weapons. We account for the equipment, and we divest the equipment,” he said.

The 311th ESC maintained a nearly perfect record of zero COVID-19 infections while in theater, Luedtke said, “until very near the end of the deployment,” when there were a handful of cases. The welfare of the soldiers was a top priority, he said, but it was also important to maintain a COVID-19-free environment for strategic reasons.

“As a senior leader, [I had] to make sure [the virus] didn’t spread and close down that theater hub in Kuwait,” he said. He credited teamwork among senior leaders, senor NCOs, and civilian leadership “in making sure we adopted good protocols and enforced those and make sure the theater hub in Kuwait remained open and didn’t impact the overall mission in theater.”