Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Fort Carson Mountaineer

2020: Year of COVID-19

By Aleah M. Castrejon | Mountaineer editor

FORT CARSON, Colo. — The new decade began with welcoming changes and updates, such as the commissary and post exchanges welcomed veterans; health system transformations; updated technology and systems across the Army, and various leadership changes throughout the division. Parades commenced; the Army Combat Fitness Test kicked off; units deployed to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Kuwait and more; training improved and the 4th Infantry Division focused on People First.

The Soldiers of the post saw many people retire, many award ceremonies and even said goodbye to fallen troops. Yet competitions, ceremonies, training and accomplishments continued.

In February, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team made its conversion to a Stryker brigade. When the announcement was made, the brigade worked diligently to qualify its Soldiers and equip them with the knowledge to become a successful Stryker brigade. Little did they know, they would be making their transition in the height of a pandemic.

As news of the novel coronavirus spread, safety and restrictions began to rise. In March, Maj. Gen. Matthew W. McFarlane, commanding general, 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson, announced that he would endeavor to ensure the safety of people.

“Let me be clear — my top priorities are protecting the greater Fort Carson community and maintaining mission readiness for Fort Carson units,” he said in the March 20 Fort Carson Mountaineer.

However, as the leader of the Mountain Post, McFarlane was also tasked with finding a balance of safety while maintaining training standards keeping the Soldiers safe yet vigilant.

“If our adversaries choose to test our nation during this time, Fort Carson will be ready to answer the call,” he added in the March 20 Mountaineer.

Fort Carson stood up testing centers in March and heightened protection levels as a public health emergency was declared. The domino effect began as COVID-19 affected all aspects of life: permanent changes-of-station moves were suspended, stimulus checks were issued and new terms were clarified in relation to the virus, such as quarantine and isolation. And leaders began regularly updating the community through town hall events via Facebook live.

While COVID-19 was the biggest drawback of the year, the Soldiers were challenged in ways they had never been. Medical Soldiers with the 627th Hospital Center were sent to support relief efforts in Washington; Soldiers learned creative new workout routines; and every department found new ways to deliver messages and products.

Facebook live and video interface platforms increased, curbside pickup grew for both medication and groceries, promotion boards changed to virtual meetings, dining became grab-and-go only, face coverings became part of the uniform, and festivals and all other gatherings came to a halt, as restricted movement was enforced.

Amid the chaos, good things were happening. The 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade activated in April; the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team prepared for the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, in June; Fort Carson was the test bed for a new automated vehicle; and Fort Carson firefighters tested their skills with a large training event in July.

Curfews were set, summer quickly approached, and just as the post began to find its new normal in adapting to the changes in response to the pandemic; curfews were lifted and restrictions eased. But as the community saw the ebb and flow — autumn approached and more COVID-19 cases did too.

In October, the cooler weather brought dryer air, creating perfect conditions for fires. While many fires were ablaze in the state Fort Carson fire crews worked to extinguish the Wild Horse Fire that burned much of the post’s training area. But if that wasn’t enough, 2020 was also an election year and Soldiers had to ensure voter preparedness. On the heels of the election the holidays rolled in, and the post continued its tradition of preparing and serving a Thanksgiving meal to those in need.

The holidays looked a bit different, as safety precautions advised against large gatherings, to include the Christmas tree lighting, where Soldiers and Families remained in their vehicles for the ceremony. McFarlane and his wife, Kelly; and Command Sgt. Maj. Adam Nash, 4th Inf. Div., and Fort Carson, and his wife, Erin, gave well wishes as the year came to a close.

“We would like to express our gratitude to our Soldiers, civilians, Families and the members of the awesome Mountain Post community, and the Colorado Springs community for everything you have done and continue to do for the Army, the Mountain Post and each other. We hope everyone stays safe, tests negative, and has a safe and happy holiday season. Steadfast and Loyal!” McFarlane said in the Dec. 11 Mountaineer.

Leaders prepared Soldiers for block leave so they could be with loved ones, but put in safety measures upon their return.

“This will be the most unusual holiday of many of our lifetimes,” Nash said in the Dec. 18 Mountaineer. “I ask you to go into the holiday time frame making sure you are looking out for each other and stay connected.”

As cases continued to rise, leaders discussed the spike in coronavirus cases and the new vaccine that has been created.

“Since recent news reports have mentioned a coming vaccine, we want to give you a quick snapshot of the Army’s plans,” McFarlane said in the Dec. 18 Mountaineer. “The Department of Defense has conducted a coordinated distribution strategy for prioritizing and administering vaccines that will strengthen our ability to protect our people, maintain readiness and support the COVID-19 response.”

2020: Year of COVID-19
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