Sgt. Donnie A. Roland, Hawai’i Public Health Activity, picks up a box of apples in preparation for delivery to the Best Army Medicine Leadership Competition at Schofield Barracks on July 24, 2021. Roland is part of PHA-H Force Health Protection Cell assisted during the BLC by ensuring the safe transport and delivery of food to all participants. The cell was also responsible for running hundreds of rapid COVID-19 tests throughout the event.
Lt. Col. Johnnie Robbins, commander of Public Health Activity-Hawai’i, speaks to Soldiers during the lull in action during the Army Medicine Best Leader Competition at Schofield Barracks, July 24, 2021. PHA-H Soldiers have been assigned to the Force Health Protection Cell, which provided assistance by running hundreds of rapid COVID-19 tests and safely transporting and delivering food to all attendees.
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii – The US Army Medical Command’s Best Leader Competition only lasted a few days here, but the preparation for the arduous event required months of planning, organization, and training. And new procedures have been put in place due to COVID-19 restrictions that required a different approach to completing the mission.
For the Soldiers of Public Health Activity-Hawai’i, the challenge of balancing public health concerns became a challenge to overcome while supporting the behind-the-scenes competition.
The PHA-H division ran the Force Health Protection Cell and was responsible for the rapid COVID-19 testing of all participants to ensure the safe transportation and delivery of food, transportation needs, processing, lane support, and tactical operational support to Sgt 1st Class SarahJoy Patrick, PHA-H.
“I was told in March that the Force Health Protection Cell would be a requirement,” said Patrick.
After Patrick and Sgt. Had drawn up a plan. Maj. Danny Hailey Jr., Senior Enlisted Advisor to Public Health Command-Pacific, briefed Command Sgt. Major Diamond D. Hough, the MEDCOM Command Sergeant Major, and Command Sgt. Maj. Abuoh Neufville, Command Sergeant Major, Regional Health Command-Pacific .
Details of their plan included “taking protective measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 and performing surveillance and pooled testing in addition to isolation requirements,” Patrick said.
Eight PHA-H soldiers, consisting of a zookeeper, several food inspectors and two platoon sergeants, were trained by staff from the Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic. Instructions included proper use of personal protective equipment, wiping, test kit procedures, and proper mask donning. The PHA-H Soldiers also took the initiative to familiarize themselves with current local, state, and installation guidelines.
Armed with new skills, the PHA-H soldiers arrived at the competition site a week before the competitors. For Sgt. 1st Class Rocky A. Edwards, PHA-H, that meant early morning and late evening. Edwards was responsible for coordinating the catering of approximately 120 soldiers for the preparation and duration of the event.
With the advent and fluidity of the COVID-19 restrictions, the team has taken every precaution to ensure the safety of all staff in their area. A protective “bubble” formed and every time someone walked into a certain place, that person was given a rapid test. Then all are retested every 72 hours.
For some, testing was more common. Edwards and whoever came with him to pick up breakfast and lunch were given a double swab daily for leaving the ‘bladder’ area.
The processing of the competition made it possible to serve breakfast and dinner warm, with MREs for lunch.
Those days, Edwards was up at 5 a.m., doing preventative safety maintenance on their vehicle, undergoing a COVID-19 rapid test, driving to collect the food and drinks, returning and helping set up the serving area, serve the food and return the containers to the dining room. In between it was constantly disinfected and cleaned. The morning meal lasted about five hours a day.
For dinner was Sgt. Ethan Johnson, Combat Medic, Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic, who volunteered for the assignment.
When asked about challenges, Johnson paused and said: “I couldn’t think of any real challenges because the workup was well thought out.”
This turned out to be true in all areas of support as the PHA-H team provided constant support with whatever the tactical operations center needed with its activities. The list of requirements was long as the TOC prepared to accept participants from Germany, Korea, Louisiana, Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, as well as three soldiers stationed in Hawaii.
The BLC took place from July 25th to 30th. During the event, the BLC attendees overcame mental and physical obstacles, traversed water, an obstacle course, shooting, land navigation and a mystery event.
But this was just one more step for the victorious soldiers who will compete for the best warrior in the army this fall.
Now that the competition is over, it means for the PHA-H support staff to return to their regular appointments knowing that they were instrumental in making the event a success.
Regardless of the job they’ve been assigned, from picking up and moving people or supplies to running quick tests, they’ve done a great job, according to Patrick.
“The PHA-H NCOs did a flawless job in preventing and spreading COVID-19 for the MEDCOM Best Leader competition,” she said. “Your professionalism and commitment support the initiatives of a Ready Medical Force and a Medically Ready Force. “