ÄMARI AIR BASE, Estonia – If a Soldier participating in DEFENDER-Europe 21 in Estonia starts feeling ill and is exhibiting signs and symptoms of COVID-19 – he or she will meet these two Army officers very quickly.
Army 2nd Lt. Ryan Alfalaij is the COVID-19 isolation facility officer in charge at Ämaria Air Base, and Capt. Abigail Peloquin is the base operations support officer in charge at the air base.
Peloquin said there are 11 COVID-19 isolation facilities, or ISOFACs, supporting DEFENDER-Europe 21 located across the entire exercise’s footprint.
“Basically every single country DEFENDER-Europe 21 touches, there’s an isolation facility,” Peloquin said.
If a Soldier participating in DEFENDER-Europe 21 here in Estonia – either at Tapa Barracks or Ämaria Air Base – is showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19, the team at Ämaria would pick them up and transport them to the ISOFAC to be quarantined and tested, said Alfalaij.
“On day two and day eight we would test them for COVID-19 and ship the tests to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to receive the results,” said Alfalaij.
The Ämaria Air Base ISOFAC is equipped with male and female living areas, latrines, showers, handwashing stations, power, heat, Wifi – whatever they need, said Alfalaij whose job at Wiesbaden, Germany, where he is normally stationed is Main Command Post (provisional company) executive officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Europe and Africa.
“We can support up to 200 personnel here at Ämari,” said Alfalaij, pointing out that one of the decisions made from all the COVID-19 mitigation planning requires every ISOFAC be able to support 10 percent of the U.S. Soldier population in that ISOFAC’s area of responsibility.
Peloquin – whose normal job is operations officer, HHBn, USAREUR-AF, in Weisbaden, Germany – said the COVID-19 mitigation plan for DEFENDER-Europe 21 has been months in the making.
“We’re conducting planning meetings twice weekly, and we took part in a COVID-19 mitigation table top exercise recently,” said Peloquin. “That’s when every ISOFAC officer in charge and every unit involved came together and said these are standards for COVID-19 mitigation.”
“And if a host nation has stricter guidance then we have to follow their requirements,” she added.
“The planning process was intense, and it’s still changing now for redeployment because many of the host nations are lifting some restrictions and others are implementing even harsher ones,” Peloquin said.
For example, a planning consideration for DEFENDER-Europe 21 in Estonia that needed to be addressed involved the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C.
“A big planning factor was redeployment for the 82nd Airborne,” Peloquin said. “This exercise – Swift Response 21 – is a joint forcible entry exercise so that’s our main goal – to get them in and out.”
Peloquin said it took six months to get a good answer – between Headquarters, Department of the Army and the Center for Disease Control – but “we finally figured it out.”
Peloquin said the 21st Theater Sustainment Command has been really patient and helpful throughout the process.
“They’re really the spearhead of all of the ISOFACs across all of DEFENDER-Europe 21,” Peloquin said.
“We are here to ensure our Soldiers receive the healthcare they need,” said Alfalaij. “It’s one less thing the Soldiers have to worry about, and I think that helps DEFENDER-Europe 21 as a whole.”
DEFENDER-Europe is an annual large-scale U.S. Army-led, multinational, joint exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between U.S., NATO and partner militaries.
Building on the success of last year’s exercise, DEFENDER-Europe 21 includes a greater number of NATO ally and partner nations conducting activities over a wider area than what was planned for in 2020. More than 28,000 multinational forces from 26 nations will conduct nearly simultaneous operations across more than 30 training areas in a dozen countries.