Minnesota Red Bulls prepare to leave for training ahead of deployment amid COVID-19 concerns
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Minnesota soldiers are familiar with the National Training Center in Ft. Irwin, California.
It's an intense combat training site in the middle of the desert.
Come July, roughly 5,000 soldiers will be there, 4,000 of those from Minnesota, part of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 34th Red Bull Infantry Division.
Along with the anticipation, there is also concern.
"We will adjust our mission and the tempo at NTC based on the health and conditions of the soldiers," said Cmdr. Tim Kemp.
A social media posting by Kemp led to more than 80 comments, many of them COVID-19 safety questions, and a change.org petition with more than 2,000 signatures asking that the summer training be canceled.
"This is a new environment that they are now facing so I totally understand the emotion of the unknown and how ambiguous all of this is," Kemp added.
The National Guard says it is taking precautions, such as contracting more transportation; busses will only be filled to 50% capacity.
They are also creating 'health bubbles' to monitor and track every soldier from the moment they step foot in California until they leave. Two to three times more medical providers will be on hand, Kemp says, and masks will be part of the uniform.
"Are you expecting some soldiers to get this? We have to expect and be prepared for soldiers that may start showing symptoms and that is something that I believe we have to accept the reality because then we can properly resource and prepare," Kemp added.
"You're not going to convince me that you really care about your soldiers or their families unless you cancel the NTC," said Tammy Johnson, a wife of a soldier.
Her husband has been a guard member for well over a decade. He has been to NTC before and also deployed, but due to family health concerns, he said no to this mission.
"I think most of my husband's unit has said no," she shared.
Kemp says there will be exemptions as to who goes based on family need during this health pandemic, adding the pace for the mission will be one of health and safety.
"I've never seen this type of response from the entire Army, at the highest levels, to support units going [to NTC,]" Kemp said.
The National Guard released an FAQ Tuesday, hoping to answer more safety concerns from soldiers and families.