Gov. Asa Hutchinson was asked today about summer training for the Arkansas National Guard. As it happened it was a question I’d posed earlier to the Guard on whether the coronavirus might affect the activity, which will draw thousands to Fort Chaffee.

My response to specific questions from Lt. Col. Brian Mason, state public affairs officer of the Arkansas National Guard:

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I’ve heard from a National Guard member questioning plans to have summer camp as usual. Is that correct? Will summer training continue normally?

Answer: Yes and No. Yes, we have been authorized by the Governor to conduct Annual Training for our Soldiers and Airmen for the remaining time we have this year. No. This is anything but “usual” or normal. We have made many modifications to the way we are conducting our collective training with the primary goal of force health protection.

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Will there be changes in recognition of the pandemic?

Answer: There are many changes and preparations we have made to ensure our Soldiers and Airmen are as safe and protected as they can be as we conduct training.

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Congregant gatherings in sometimes close quarters are not unheard of in military training settings.

Answer: Yes, while there is always risk involved in nearly everything we do, there are always safety and health protection measures in place to mitigate those risks.

Mason then elaborated, including by noting that a recent activation of 570 members in Little Rock on security detail had been completed with only one solider later testing positive for COVID-19:

 

1.      The Arkansas National Guard must maintain its readiness.

  • Being ready to respond is at the core of what Arkansans expect us to do.
  • Annual Training allows us to test our ability to come together in a pandemic to train.
  • We’ve proven our processes work with the latest state mission where 570 were called up, and only 1 Soldier tested positive.

 2. Training Requirements have been folded around the health protection measures.

  • Active protection measures are focused on daily screening, distancing, controlled access, sanitation, and PPE.
  • Soldiers will be placed in “geographic bubbles” to facilitate social distancing, large-unit separation.
  • COVID-19 testing and specific isolation/quarantine procedures will be available for those who present symptoms.

3. We are Always Ready, Always There.

The Arkansas National Guard must train in order to be ready for future state, federal missions.

  • With around 8500 Soldiers and Airmen across all counties in Arkansas, your National Guard has a very deep bench of experience and capabilities to call on.
  • Training is the key to our readiness.

Here is more specific information relative to your questions and concerns:

Comprehensive planning and preparation is what we do.

  • We have comprehensive plans in place to protect the health and well-being of our Guardsmen for annual training.
  • Participation in weekend drills, training assemblies and annual training periods is essential to ensuring collective skills proficiencies are practiced and maintained.
  • Conducting training and drills with teams, squads and platoons ensures cohesiveness and readiness for a variety of future contingencies and missions.
  • Preparing Soldiers, Airmen and our units for the rigors of high-intensity missions in austere conditions and using realistic environments ensures readiness and tests the limits of our capabilities.
  • The nation and all Arkansans count on the National Guard to be prepared and ready to fight and win, as well as support to our Federal, State and Local partners during disasters and times of need.

Health protection measures are necessary to ensure mission readiness.

  • The health of our total force is essential to our readiness and mission success.
  • While the spread of COVID-19 is an ongoing fight, our adversaries as well as natural and other disasters will continue to require our effective response.
  • We have taken steps to ensure our training environment is organized and structured to meet or exceed the standards and guidelines established by the CDC and the Arkansas Department of Health for limiting the spread of COVID-19.
  • We will adhere to strict, disciplined and deliberate measures that are focused on safeguarding our total force from COVID-19 infection and spread.
  • Our active protective measures are focused on daily screening, distancing, access control, sanitization, prudent use of PPE, and training in small, controlled groups.
  • The training environment will be structured in such a way that Guardsmen will be safer than everyday environments they might experience in their hometown communities.
  • We will communicate to every Guardsmen what to expect when it comes time to report for annual training.

The Arkansas National Guard lives up to its motto of Always Ready, Always There.

  • The Arkansas National Guard must continue to prepare its Soldiers, Airmen and Units for a wide-variety of missions for both federal and state contingencies.
  • We must remain ready to mobilize and deploy when called on by the President to defend national interests, and we must be prepared to answer the Governor’s call in response to state emergencies and disasters.
  • With around 8500 Soldiers and Airmen across all counties in Arkansas, your National Guard has a very deep bench of experience and capabilities to call on.
  • Training is the key to our readiness.
  • We have the capabilities, capacity and connections to respond wherever or however our State and Nation needs us.
  • Our combined military training and civilian expertise enables us to bring innovated solutions to a wide array of domestic response and federal missions.

CORRECTION: I misspelled Lt. Col. Mason’s name in the original post.

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