First Army partners work through backlog and enable Soldiers to get on with their missions

Staff Sgt. Sean Eckrote, assigned to Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery Regiment, Oklahoma National Guard, fires an M240B machine while Spc. Maison Millan, left, 1-158 FA and Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Hermes, right, an Observer Coach/ Trainer assigned to 2nd Battalion, 362nd Field Artillery Regiment, 5th Armored Brigade, First Army Division West observe round impacts at McGregor Range Complex, N.M., May 09, 2020. 5th Armored Brigade continues to build readiness by providing tough realistic training while working within the constraints of COVID-19. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Gray, 5th Armored Brigade)
June 05, 2020

In less than a month, First Army and its partners worked tirelessly to get nearly 3,800 Soldiers, who had been backlogged due to a stop-movement policy, to their destinations. The Soldiers were awaiting either deployment to theatre or movement to a Mobilization Force Generation Installation.
The Army stop-movement policy had been instituted to halt the spread of COVID-19.

The more than five dozen units, “are no longer backlogged. They are either at the mobilization site or they have deployed,” said Col. David Sanders, First Army G3/5/7.

First Army overcame the challenge by working closely with subordinate units, U.S. Army Forces Command, Army Service Component Commands, the MFGIs, and the National Guard and Army Reserve Command headquarters. Clear and constant communication was key.

“Part of it was just establishing the priorities,” said Bob Finnegan, First Army G3/5/7 Chief of Operations. “We focused on units that were already validated at the MFGI to coordinate transportation to get them out, as well as those units identified by the combatant commands who had an exception to policy to move forward. So that was our first priority, to get those units moving.”

While there was a focus on getting troops through the various training requirements, Finnegan stressed it was also vital to give combatant commanders units that were equipped do to the job.

“We needed to ensure that the units were still able to support the combatant commander requirements and to get the units back into regular flow, while incorporating the quarantine measures upon arrival at the MFGI,” he said.

The given circumstances created a rough path forward, the teamwork of the Total Force helped smooth the edges.

“It was challenging,” Finnegan said. “But we had some good systems and processes in place to help us better visualize how we could systematically reduce the backlog at the MFGIs. Then we refined, modified and collaborated, and a lot of great help from FORSCOM and the ASCCs in theater, so it was just a complete mobilization enterprise effort.”

Sanders noted that flexibility and quick reactions were paramount.

“We had to plan and resynchronize the mobilization arrival date, along with adding the 14-day quarantine requirements and adding additional days for training that was not accomplished pre-mobilization, and then resynching the latest arrival date in theater,” he said.

But all this was necessary to prevent the backlog from growing even more pronounced.

“We would have kept stacking up Soldiers that were waiting at home stations to mobilize and deploy, which would have caused significant backlog that would have taken nearly three months to recover from,” Sanders explained.

Clearing the backlog was necessary to ensure First Army’s National Guard and Reserve partners were receiving high quality training and validation for deployment.

“The backlog, coupled with what we had planned for June, we couldn’t do them simultaneously based on capacity,” added Maj. Demarius Thomas, 5th Armored Brigade S3. “So it was important because we had to get them trained, validated, and out of here prior to the units coming in June.”

Ensuring the backlog was cleared also meant Soldiers overseas, could finally come home.

“We needed to get people that were stuck in theatre…back over here,” explained Ed Traylor, 5th Armored Brigade deputy S3, “In order for them to move back, they had to have replacements.”

Sanders credited the Mobilization Enterprise and partnership with the success, citing FORSCOM, DA, Installation Management Command, ASCC, the National Guard, and the United States Army Reserve Command with all playing key roles in working through the backlog. Also crucial was the coordination between First Army headquarters and its subordinate units.

“It was a lot of hard work from the First Army Staff, 120th Infantry Brigade, the 5th Armored Brigade, the 166th Aviation Brigade, and Division West,” Sanders said. “There was coordination with the enterprise to make this happen.”

Thomas echoed Sanders’ sentiments about the importance of teamwork.

“The first thing we had to do was work with First Army and Mr. Bob Finnegan to get the proposed plan for re-start approved,” he said. “We developed the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario, considering what we had coming and what we had paused…and what was the best time we could get those units trained and validated. There’s a lot of coordination that has to go on here at Fort Bliss with the enterprise, and then subsequent coordination with First Army so we can get those units…onto their supporting combatant command.”

Simply put, the combination of the COVID 19 response efforts coupled with the Stop Movement restrictions had a cascading effect on training and maintaining the onward flow of RC mobilizing formations.
Exacerbating the challenge was the COVID-19 pandemic mitigation efforts. Specifically, there were considerations of unit integrity, Soldier health, and movement and isolation plans for anyone who tested positive or showed coronavirus symptoms.

“Each unit has to be treated as a separate cohort. We can’t intermingle cohorts,” Thomas explained. “If I have a unit that is 50 personnel and I have a 75-personnel barracks, I can’t put any other units in that barracks. You quickly utilize your available building areas because we have to maintain a cohort-controlled monitoring program that is necessary to get folks trained and validated safely. So that’s the first thing. Then it’s supply. We have the requirement to conduct temperature checks twice a day for every person on the ground at Fort Bliss. So that’s number two. And then the third planning consideration…is what to do when someone is displaying symptoms or when someone tests positive. That requires building space, which goes back into that capacity issue, and also requires resources to transport personnel. We have buildings allocated for both scenarios, for showing symptoms, and for those who test positive.”

Despite all these obstacles, the weeks of hard work paid off.

“It’s called crisis management,” Sanders said. “We provided strategic assets for the Army and were able to fix a strategic problem for the Army.”

Ultimately, resolution of this mobilization backlog is a good example of how effective mission command, teamwork, and collaboration came together to resolve a critical problem and enables First Army to continue to train the Reserve Component formations for numerous critical combatant commanders requirements across the globe while simultaneously responding to the COVID 19 crisis.