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    COVID Recruit: One Soldier’s journey through adversity to qualification

    COVID Recruit: One Soldier’s journey through adversity to qualification

    Photo By Staff Sgt. George Davis | U.S. Army Pvt. Michael Baumberger, a public affairs mass communications specialist,...... read more read more

    Ohio Army National Guard recruit Michael “Mikey” Baumberger had his last in-person drill with the Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP), a program that trains National Guard recruits to be successful at basic training, the weekend of Jan. 3, 2020.

    That same weekend, the Center for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield was notified by a counterpart in China that a "mysterious respiratory illness” was spreading in Wuhan, China.

    January was not supposed to be Recruit Baumberger’ss last in-person training with RSP. But as his next drill dates approached, the nation crept deeper into COVID’s shadow, and he received a notification that drill weekend was cancelled. First February and then March. Training had been sidelined by an emerging pandemic.

    The Army had initially scheduled Baumberger to ship out to Ft. Jackson, S.C. for Basic Combat Training in April, but his RSP instructors were uncertain whether the training would be conducted at that time. Ohio Governor Mike Dewine instituted a statewide lockdown March 23, and DOD policy regarding COVID-19 security measures were still taking shape.

    Baumberger left for basic on April 22. The pandemic was beginning its spread across the country, and many aspects of life had begun to shut down, but the United States Army was steadfast in its commitment to sustain the nation’s operational forces.

    “So my mom was really iffy about sending me off to basic,” Baumberger said. “Especially when it was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. My recruit advisor stressed to Mom that Ft. Jackson would be the safest place for me to be during all of this.”

    Basic training did prove to be a safe, stable environment for Baumberger. Strict, martial adherence to CDC social distancing guidelines combined with a young, healthy population proved an effective deterrent to the spread of COVID-19 in recruit training formations at Ft. Jackson.

    “It has been a work in progress to properly address COVID-19 while simultaneously continuing our core mission,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr., Ft. Jackson Commanding General, in a July 10 letter titled “The road ahead for Ft. Jackson.” “Maintaining physical and social distance, application of measures to protect our workforce and Families, and continued vigilance have been the cornerstone of our success.”

    COVID-19 safety measures changed the nature of Baumberger’s Basic Training experience. Ft. Jackson instituted extensive social distancing and testing protocols.
    “The first two weeks of basic, we weren't allowed to leave our battalion footprint,” Baumberger said. “Obviously the drill instructors couldn't get right up in your face while also obeying the protocols for COVID, but they did a pretty good job of keeping it intense.”

    The Army Training Command added a yellow phase to the standard red, white and blue phases. This gradual introduction to the Army experience allowed the recruits to better adjust to the military lifestyle, and Ft. Jackson has reported less attrition as a result of adding the new phase.

    Once past the yellow phase, training requirements asserted themselves. The days began blending together in a blur of intense training as drill instructors worked to make up for time lost to COVID’s yellow phase.

    As basic training came to its conclusion, a painful consequence of the COVID restrictions impacted the recruits' experiences in a very personal way.

    “The pandemic didn't affect us physically, while we were there, it was all just guidelines that we had to follow,” Baumberger said, “but it’s one of my proudest moments, when I graduated basic training. It was really upsetting that my family was not there in-person to see it.”

    As Baumberger graduated basic training, Our World in Data reported the U.S. suffered 126,140 total deaths and 2.59 million confirmed cases of COVID-19. The pandemic had become a deadly reality and many epidemiologists warned that the worst was to come.

    “TIME will be our biggest enemy,” Beagle said in his letter. “The ability for us (the collective Team Jackson) to maintain a high level of vigilance, patience, and cooperation over the next six months will be tested in a major way.”

    To minimize the chance of infection, Ft. Jackson personnel drove newly promoted Private Michael Baumberger directly from basic training graduation to his Advanced Individual Training (AIT) location at Ft. Meade, Md. Subject matter experts there would train Baumberger as a mass communications specialist working in Army public affairs.
    Bamburger realized the world had changed while he was at basic training.

    “Yeah, I was totally out of touch with reality,” Baumberger said. “I hadn't known or seen anybody get COVID. To me it was almost like it wasn't real. It was just something that was imaginary.”
    Baumberger and the other former recruits would quickly become familiar with the concept of the sacrifice of service. A country besieged by pandemic required many sacrifices of them very early in their military careers.

    “We've made class sizes smaller, mandated the wear of face masks, minimized the total number of people in the building by canceling non-essential classes and maximized telework for staff and faculty,” said U.S. Air Force Col. John S. Hutcheson, Commandant of the Defense Information School in an April 15 press release.

    Sacrifices were required of the students in order to continue to conduct training during the pandemic. This training was required for their Military Occupational Specialty, their military job.

    “My job training is a lot longer than most at six months,” Baumberger said. “Ft. Meade is 30 minutes from Washington D.C., which I've never been to. So, I was really hoping to get the chance to go there.
    But, we weren't allowed to go off post. My parents didn't get to come see me graduate basic training. So, I was hoping that they would be able to visit me, but that was against the rules.”

    The young Soldiers were asked to spend long months limiting their existence to the classroom, barracks and physical training field. The long training period and comprehensive COVID-19 restrictions tried their patience and tested their resolve.

    “I am proud of our students' resilience, despite the turbulence and distractions,” Hutcheson said. “And above all, I am proud of their decision to serve our country.”

    Service is what drew these citizens to enlist and become recruits in training. They also received valuable skill sets associated with their military jobs.

    “The main reason I joined the National Guard is because I wanted to join something bigger than myself,” Baumberger said. “I thought that it would be a unique opportunity to give directly back to my community. During COVID, I saw the National Guard helping in food banks and other places. I was excited to join the effort. As a public affairs Soldier, I would get to cover those missions, to tell that story, it would be a story I wanted to tell.”

    Pfc. Michael Baumberger graduated AIT December 18, 2020. America was in the height of the COVID-19 winter surge. He returned to a state in lockdown and a National Guard heavily activated, working hard across the state in food pantries, nursing homes and prisons. Baumberger is a member of the newest generation of American Soldiers, challenged by adversity as recruits, but now successfully trained and ready to serve.



    Date Taken: 04.14.2021
    Date Posted: 04.17.2021 13:11
    Story ID: 393818
    Location: OH, US

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