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Hawaii Soldiers Prepare To Return From Mock Deployment

Five-thousand Hawaii-based soldiers with the U.S. Army are currently in Louisiana for combat training. COVID-19 testing and quarantines are planned when they head back to the islands.

For the past several weeks, soldiers from the Army’s 25th Infantry Division have been battling a fictitious enemy force in the woods of Western Louisiana.


The event is part of regularly planned exercises at Fort Polk’s Joint Readiness Training Center, meant to test the Army’s ability to rapidly move personnel, equipment, and aircraft across the globe and be able to fight upon arrival.


Colonel Jeffrey VanAntwerp, deputy commander for operations of the Schofield Barracks-based 25th Infantry Division, told HPR that the mock deployment is essential for the unit, which is responsible for land operations across the Pacific.


“Forcing all of those systems to work and get the bugs out is going to set us up when we are really distributed by hundreds, if not thousands, of miles out in the Pacific. We’ll be much better prepared to do that,” said VanAntwerp. He was recently selected for promotion to brigadier general and is one of the top officers in the light infantry division, which has around 10,000-personnel in Hawaii.  


The U.S. Army maintains three Combat Training Centers around the world: the National Training Center in California, the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, and JRTC in Louisiana. 


Rotations to a Combat Training Center are a major event for the Army’s combat units, known as Brigade Combat Teams, and are considered highly-challenging operations under normal circumstances.


That challenge has been made even greater so this year by the global COVID-19 pandemic.


During the summer, Army and Thai soldiers took part in Hawaii's largest ground-based military exercise of the year. After the three-week training, as many as 11 Thai soldiers tested positive, according to media reports.


VanAntwerp says all of the 5,000 soldiers deploying from Hawaii were isolated and given a COVID test before traveling, creating what the Army calls a “training bubble.”


“Less than 1% of those 5,000 tested positive,” VanAntwerp revealed. “[Positive soldiers] did not travel. They went on a 14 day quarantine and were then tested again and had to have a negative test prior to travel.”


Those measures appear to have paid off. Halfway through the exercise and the 25th Infantry Division says there have not been any confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 among the troops from Hawaii.


The unit plans to repeat the testing and quarantining procedure in Louisiana before returning to the islands on chartered flights. VanAntwerp says the Army wants the public to know that it is taking the threat of the virus seriously.


“We do not want to be the reason that the risk to the population in Hawaii increases,” he added.


Unit leaders say there are currently no plans to make use of the new testing exemption to Hawaii’s travel quarantine and will instead direct returning service members to isolate at home.


The training is expected to conclude at the end of October.


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