Guard Pre-Deployment Training Tweaked for COVID-19 Prevention

U.S. Army Sgt. Jacob Holt, assigned to the 666th Ordnance Company of the National Guard, hands a portable X-ray machine to Staff Sgt. Kenneth Dollar in an EOD 9 bomb suit during a scenario in 2016. (Army photo by Sgt. Ashley Marble)

Though deploying in much smaller numbers than they did during the height of U.S. involvement in the Iraq and Afghan wars, Alabama National Guard troops are still deploying, and in the time of COVID-19, they are doing things a little differently.

About 30 soldiers with the Guard’s 666th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company are expected to deploy in the near future for about nine months overseas. Earlier this month, the soldiers with the Jacksonville-based unit arrived at what the military terms a mobilization station for additional training before they deploy.

But the soldiers did not hit the ground running. Because of the COVID-19 threat, they have some additional do’s and don’ts.

“Currently, units arriving to mobilizations stations are put in quarantine for 14 days,” said Lt. Col Tim Alexander, public affairs director at Alabama Guard headquarters in Montgomery. “Soldiers are practicing all force health protection guidance from (the Department of Defense) to include social distancing to the maximum extent possible, (wearing) of facial masks, appropriate spacing in billeting and continual health monitoring.”

Explosive ordnance disposal units pretty much live up to their names. In war zones or former war zones, their mission is to remove and destroy munitions that can threaten troops and civilians. The 666th has had deployments in the past, one being in Bosnia in 2003, during which it gathered and destroyed piles of munitions formerly used by Bosnian armed forces.

Alexander said he could not say specifically where the 666th will deploy other than it will be in the U.S. Army Central Command’s Area of Responsibility, or AOR. The area, according to central command, comprises 4 million square miles and ranges from Egypt to the China-India border. Other countries in the AOR include Iraq and Afghanistan.

At present, the only Guard unit deployed is a detachment, based near Montgomery, of about 10 soldiers with the National Guard’s Operational Support Airlift Command. Alexander said the detachment is somewhere in the Central Command’s Area of Responsibility. On tap to deploy later this year is an engineer company of about 200 soldiers, Alexander said.