Army War College has precautions in place to address coronavirus

Officials at Carlisle Barracks, located in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley, say precautions have been taken to maximize safety and minimize the spread of COVID-19 as the Army War College Class of 2021 arrives in the Carlisle area.


By JOSEPH CRESS | The Sentinel | Published: August 1, 2020

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CARLISLE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Precautions have been taken to maximize safety and minimize the spread of COVID-19 as the Army War College Class of 2021 arrives in the Carlisle area.

About 380 students are enrolled this year in the 12-month resident course that results in a master’s level degree in strategic studies, said Maj. Gen. John Kem, outgoing commander of Carlisle Barracks and the college.

Of those students, about 80 are international fellows — senior military leaders from countries allied with or friendly to the U.S. The rest are senior leaders representing every branch of the U.S. military and federal agencies.

The bulk of the American students are career officers, usually colonels, who are in their 40s and serve in the active-duty or reserve Army or the National Guard. They are drawn from overseas assignments in countries like Germany and South Korea or from stateside Army installations such as Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Hood, Texas, or Fort Carson, Colorado.

With all this migration into Carlisle and Cumberland County, there is concern about the spread of the pandemic, Kem said. “People are very nervous as COVID numbers go up.” He said international fellows are particularly worried given the higher number of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

To address these concerns, post leaders have implemented a policy of mandatory testing of all incoming students after two weeks of limited movement, in the case of the Americans, or total quarantine, in the case of the fellows.

“We’re thinking a lot about how to make sure we’re safe coming in,” Kem said. “We are setting conditions for both fully remote and in-person instruction.”

Typically, War College students are divided into 24 seminar groups of up to 16 students each. The problem this year is the seminar rooms in Root Hall are too small to accommodate that many students while complying with social distancing protocols.

“We can’t use them so we looked at bigger spaces,” Kem said. Post leaders have identified about a dozen locations throughout Carlisle Barracks that could be used for group instruction, he said. Even then, adjustments are going to have to be made to divide the seminar groups into morning and afternoon shifts.

“The first week of school, we’re going to bring them in to do an AM/PM rotation for about three sessions,” Kem said. “We know they just had the COVID testing. Some of the [classroom] dynamics are better to do in person.”

The second week, the seminar groups will move into total remote instruction, in part to test the capabilities of the information technology, Kem said. That way, students and faculty would be ready to move between in-person and fully remote when needed.

“We will reassess every week to see how things are doing,” Kem said.

This past spring, the War College had no choice but to go almost completely remote. Even after graduation in early June, the pandemic has been causing problems for the outgoing Class of 2020.

“It was hard to get some students back to their countries,” Kem said, referring to the international fellows. “Their countries are concerned about travelers coming in from the U.S. As of two weeks ago, we still had 18 students and their families who have not left yet to go home. At last check, we are down to five students.”

So far, the pandemic has not had a major impact on the timetable to construct an $85 million academic building to replace Root Hall. In March, the Army awarded a contract to Manhattan Construction Co. of Arlington, Virginia.

There was a groundbreaking in June followed by site work that included the removal of some parking spaces, Kem said. “By mid-August, they will start doing pier work and start drilling because of the underlying soil conditions.”

The four-story, 201,000-square-foot general instruction building is being constructed next to Collins Hall, which houses the Center for Strategic Leadership. That facility runs exercises and war game scenarios. The goal is to complete the new academic building by March 29, 2023.

The new building will offer more space and greater operational flexibility than Root Hall, which was built in 1965-66 and dedicated in April 1967.

In October 2018, the Army Corps of Engineers validated Root Hall’s deficiencies, characterizing the building as “failing” and “past [its] useful life,” The Sentinel reported in April 2019.

At that time, barracks officials said that while Bliss and most of Root Hall may be demolished and redeveloped as open or park space, there are no plans to demolish the Root Hall gymnasium, which they deemed vital to maintaining the physical fitness of students.

©2020 The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa.)
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