The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has not stopped Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division from being ready to go anywhere in the world within 18 hours, division officials said.
The division is starting to ease back toward normal operations, and its leaders are starting to look at when airborne operations can resume "with mitigation measures in place," according to Maj. Gen. James Mingus, the 82nd's commander.
"As activities start to increase, our priorities have not changed — but we are now at a point where protecting the force and readiness are now on equal footing," Mingus said in a written message to the division's paratroopers.
The division's airborne operations have been suspended since the division's last jump March 20, according to Lt. Col. Mike Burns, an 82nd spokesman.
Fort Bragg is operating with mission essential troops and workers because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The virus started in China, but has become a worldwide pandemic, killing more than 60,000 people in the United States and more than 375 in North Carolina.
North Carolina residents have been under a stay-at-home order for about six weeks.
The 82nd serves as the country's Immediate Response Force. The division demonstrated its readiness in January when about 3,500 paratroopers deployed to the Middle East with little notice. Most of the soldiers were in the 82nd's 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Mingus said the 82nd still has its mission to be ready to go anywhere in the world in 18 hours.
"That is what our nation expects, and that is why we exist," he said.
Mingus thanked the paratroopers for staying prepared.
"Throughout our history we have never failed in this mission and we will remain ready, even now," he said.
Burns said the division must be ready to answer the nation's call to go anywhere in the world at any time and sustain combat operations. The division proudly maintains the mission as the Immediate Response Force, he said.
"This is a no-fail task and a solemn responsibility," Burns said. "Every paratrooper in this division takes pride in being able to answer the nation's call when it comes."
Burns said that despite restrictions, soldiers in the division units are still working toward superior conditioning, conducting limited maintenance and services on vehicles and equipment, and doing lots of online training. Paratroopers also are focusing on the "warrior tasks and battle drills" that can be trained in a safe manner, he said.
The 82nd also has developed a "Structured Virtual Training Environment that empowers leaders to utilize a variety of digital platforms to focus on individual and limited collective-level training," Burns said. The training includes the "All American 6," which are superior conditioning, marksmanship, battle drills, medical skills, communications, and airborne proficiency, he said. Soldiers also are getting instructor certificates and professional military education through distance learning.
"You wouldn't believe how creative paratroopers can be in a crisis," Burns said. "They're comfortable in the digital space."
Col. E.J. Irvin II, the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade commander, said flying is a perishable skill. Remaining ready to support the division's response force mission is the unit's number one priority, he said.
"We have continued training in a reduced capacity while finding creative ways to mitigate risk to COVID exposure," Irvin said. "We have also taken this opportunity to focus on our ground and air maintenance readiness, increasing in both areas with small groups of paratroopers."
Irvin said the brigade's paratroopers have embraced the virtual training environment and continue to stay socially connected while maintaining physical distancing.
"It has not been easy, but the resiliency of our entire team shows their commitment to excellence and the pride of being a part of America's Guard of Honor," he said. "I'm extremely proud of our paratroopers and appreciate what they have accomplished."
Col. Herman "Jay" Johnson, the 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade commander, said his unit is charged with providing "world-class support" across the division at a moment's notice
"Amid COVID-19, we had to find creative ways to ensure our paratroopers' safety while also keeping the mission first," he said. "In doing so, our leaders have developed virtual training so paratroopers can maintain readiness while teleworking."
Mission essential troops implemented systems and processes such as rotating paratroopers in shifts so the brigade could keep its equipment ready, Johnson said.
"While this is not our normal way of conducting business, I am confident that it shows how adaptable and resilient our paratroopers are," he said "They are embracing the virtual setting we are currently in and are still able to support the division and the nation, wherever and whenever called upon."
Mingus said the division will not "rush to failure" as it starts to resume normal operations.
"The formula for success is simple: Don't get it, don't give it, and do your part by limiting contact with others, practice physical distancing, rigorous hand washing habits, and watching your health," he said.
©2020 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.