SOF Units Respond and Adapt to Coronavirus Pandemic

SOF and COVID-19 Response

The coronavirus has significantly affected life in the United States and around the world. The U.S. special operations forces are also finding their environment drastically altered as well. However, the U.S. SOF units are responding and adapting.

Special operations unit have altered how they conduct their daily business, how they train, and their operations overseas in active conflicts. Training has been halted, scaled back, or postponed.

However, the SOF units are not just hanging around waiting for this long-term pandemic to subside. The various units have changed up how they operate and what they are doing. Some are continuing on with their primary mission but in a different way.

Combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have slowed down significantly. The SOF units in hostile fire zones have turned to novel methods to continue their missions. Those conducting the Train, Advise, Assist, and Accompany operations with their host nation counterparts are no longer (in some cases) going out on operations.

For instance, in Iraq, U.S. special operations troops have been using drones to train security forces in Iraq – thus maintaining a distance from the local troops. The units in SOJTF – OIR use the drones “. . . to record training exercises, then review the footage and provide feedback on the Iraqi troops’ tactics . . .” (Stars and Stripes, May 4, 2020).

Photo: Soldiers assigned to Group Support Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne) assist with COVID-19 response efforts making personal protective face masks in Birmingham, Alabama, May 1, 2020. (U.S Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Cox)

SOF Riggers – Face Mask Manufacturing

Almost every SOF unit has parachute riggers and they have been pressed into service to fabricate protective face masks for their units, local medical clinics and hospitals, and other military and civilian agencies. One example are the parachute riggers of the 20th Special Forces Group, Army National Guard.

Located in the ‘rigger shed’ of Group Support Battalion in Birmingham, Alabama the riggers have shifted their focus from parachute operations to full production of personal protective equipment. The standard day-to-day parachute operations had been placed on an administrative hold. The face masks they produce are disseminated across the state of Alabama to disinfection teams and medical teams within the Alabama National Guard.

“These masks provide protection needed for our Soldiers to conduct vital disinfection and medical assistance operations throughout the state. The ability to fulfill our requirement for personal protective equipment internally to the Alabama National Guard reduces our demand on the supply chain for first responders, medical professionals, and the great citizens of Alabama.”

LTC Robert J. Griggs, 20th SFG(A), GSB Commander

Read more about the 20th SFGA riggers in “Soldiers from 20th Special Forces Group Combat COVID-19”, 20th SFGA, May 1, 2020.

Photo: Senior Master Sgt. Brian Kemmer, 66th Training Squadron, Det. 3. superintendent, addresses special operations recruiters from the 330th Recruiting Squadron before an immersion at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, June 3, 2019. ( U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Kayshel Trudell)

Air force SERE Program Changes

The U.S. Air Force is streamlining changes to its Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training with some permanent changes. These changes were going to take place in the future but have been expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes involve altering SERE training from a one-size fits all approach to a more flexible and efficient process. This includes introducing distance learning into the training – something the coronavirus outbreak hastened along.

“Reducing the length of the SERE training helps accommodate personnel’s needs, especially through this pandemic. We are professionalizing our Airmen through continued distance-learning education and getting after some long-term projects to modernize the SERE enterprise”.

Colonel Carlos Brown, 366th Training Group Commander

Read more in “Air Force SERE Modernizes Training”, Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs, May 5, 2020.

Photo: A U.S. Special Operations Command Central’s Civil Military Support Elements (CMSE) in collaboration with host nation military civil affairs teams and non-government organizations provided a range of protective and sterile materials to the City of Zarqa, Jordan to combat the Corona Virus, Apr. 7, 2020. The NGO and the CMSE provided masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to the city of Zarqa in response to global pandemic. (Photo by SSG Steven Colvin)

CA Units Assist in ME COVID-19 Battle

The countries of Lebanon and Jordan are under considerable strain from the efforts needed to host a large number of refugees from the Syrian conflict. These efforts are further constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic – which could prove catastrophic within refugee camps. Civil Affairs teams from the 96th CA Battalion have been deploying to both these countries since 2012.

The CA teams have been working with the Lebanese Civil-Military Cooperation Center (CIMIC) and the Jordanian Civil-Military Coordination Center (CMCC) in the effort to contain the coronavirus. Medical training and the distribution of face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, and winter clothing are some of the activities taking place.

Read more about the CA teams in “Lebanon and Jordan partner with US Civil Affairs amid global pandemic”, by SSG Steven Colvin, SOCCENT, May 8, 2020.

Photo: Capt. Katie Saunders, 919th Special Operations Medical Squadron, chief of public health, attends a virtual morning meeting at Duke Field, Fla., April 13, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Nicole King)

919th SOMDS Adapt at Duke Field

The airmen in the 919th Special Operations Medical Squadron have changed up their routine to adapt to the new work environment posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Part of their job is to conduct contact tracing of Air Force special operators who travel to high-risk areas. Members of the Air Force reserve unit have been activated to assist in the local and worldwide operations conducted by the 919th Special Operations Wing.

Medical personnel at the 919th SOMDS screen personnel before they enter the building, wear masks, and have reduced in-person appointments to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and keep Citizen Air Commandos safe.

Read more about the 919th SOMDS in “Fighting the Invisible Enemy”, by Senior Airman Dylan Gentile, 919th SOW, May 4, 2020.

Photo: SEAL candidates participate in a personnel inspection during BUD/S training at NSW Center. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony Walker, May 4, 2020.

Naval Special Warfare Center Resumes Training

The Naval Special Warfare Center resumed training for its SEAL and Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman (SWCC) selection and assessment training in early May. Some of the training had been paused since early march. The NSW took a conservative approach to the training after experiencing COVID-19 positive cases among it population. Instructors are now wearing facemasks and gloves. The classes are maximizing ‘bubble-to-bubble’ procedures to limit the transfer of the virus.

Read more in “NSW Center Resumes Portions of Paused SEAL and SWCC Training”, DVIDS, Naval Special Warfare Center, May 4, 2020.


See also: “Coronavirus Disease 2019”, USSOCOM

Top Image: The invisible virus COVID-19.

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