By Cmdr. Michael T. Mihaly, Supply Officer, Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center
The mission of Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center (ECRC) is to mobilize and demobilize 7,000 active duty and Reserve individual augmentee (IA) customers annually. The disestablishment of 16 Navy and Mobilization Process Sites left ECRC as the Navy’s only command fully qualified to handle all aspects of the IA lifecycle from equipping, establishing pay, medical, training track management, reception, staging,
onward movement, and integration (RSOI), and Warrior Transition Program. Therefore, every week of the year, without interruption, ECRC staff processes customers.
Within days of the unprecedented shut down of the American economy, due to COVID-19, United States Fleet Forces (USFF) declared Navy IAs as mission essential. Continuing the ECRC mission, uninterrupted, during a pandemic, required the ECRC N4 supply team to find creative solutions to keep both crew and customers safe. During the first week of the crisis, two immediate
needs, requiring the highest priority, were establishing operational relationships with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and sourcing vendors who could supply personal protective equipment (PPE).
ECRC N4 provides IAs with chemical, biological, and radiological defense protective equipment and utilizes Kalman and Company Inc. to fit test gas masks. Gas mask fit testing was previously conducted with the Joint Service
Mask Leakage Tester (JSMLT), however, this required placing a hood over the customer’s head while utilizing a poly-dispersed oil aerosol re-agent. This technology had the potential to contaminate IAs with COVID-19,
therefore, within a day, Kalman responded by replacing the JSMLT with the M41 Protective Assessment Test System (PATS). Within another day, N4 facilitated discussion with respective medical stakeholders and most importantly, with the NAVSEA technical warrant holder. With NAVSEA’s final certification that PATS was safe in a COVID-19 environment, the mission continued without delaying any of our customers.
Simultaneously, ECRC Assistant Supply Officer, Lt. Daniel Tifft, along with LS2 Keiondra Howard and LS2 Dana Williams, needed to solve another serious problem. Although ECRC had a legitimate need for medical supplies, masks, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, ECRC lacked priority designations assigned to military treatment facilities and afloat vessels. In addition, with the entire nation facing unprecedented supply challenges, they decided to utilize Joint Office Supply Europe (JOSE). JOSE vendors were already shortening the resupply pipeline for ECRC’s Warrior Transition Detachment (WTP) in Sembach, Germany, but using JOSE in reverse, to supply headquarters, was a simple, yet brilliant idea. Working within an established system, typically utilized by European based U.S. Army and Air Force units, made it possible for N4 to provide for headquarters and all of the ECRC detachments.
In addition to solving these immediate issues, LSCS Bernard Poteat, LSCS Tim Wooten, and LS2 Kim Oliver continued solving other problems. With the WTP Sembach, Germany, mission suspended due to COVID-19, ECRC N4 lost the ability to collect gear from demobilizing Sailors at this site. This required establishing memorandums of agreement with other central issue facilities in order to return protective gear to the stock system. ECRC N4 also open purchased plexiglass at Home Depot and then assembled, where practical, protective barriers between staff and customers. In the warehouse, in classrooms, and in medical, N4 clearly designated six foot stand offs to aid with social distancing.
COVID-19 forced ECRC and its customers into navigating restriction of movement (ROM) and pause in mission (POM). N4 was crucial to providing vehicles necessary for the transport of Sailors and served as direct liaison with the Naval Station Norfolk food service officer to ensure ROM and POM Sailors received three daily meals.
Although ECRC never stopped processing new weekly customers, the customer base did drop significantly, to only 120 customers, in order to meet the intent of social distancing. In every aspect of the ECRC lifecycle, from medical, to training, to gear fitting and issue, ECRC strived to maintain best practices to keep staff and customers safe. However, this reduction in customers led to a backlog that USFF needed to clear. Ultimately, ECRC Reserve detachments mobilized and created a secondary mobilization site in Gulfport, Mississippi. ECRC N4 supported the stand up of this mission with military interdepartmental purchase requests for vehicles and other Naval Facilities Engineering Command requirements, as well as procurement of everything from furniture, to NMCI assets, to medical supplies, and consumables.
Of course, I would never choose to live in a COVID-19 environment; however, my ECRC N4 team makes working in a COVID-19 reality as easy as it can possibly be. My sincere appreciation to each one of them for their creativity, ingenuity, flexibility, professionalism, dedication, and courage.