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Gulfport CRTC Supports Vital U.S. Troop Movement Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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  • By A. Danielle Thomas
GULFPORT COMBAT READINESS TRAINING CENTER, Miss. --The Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center is helping United States active duty military forces continue vital troop movements throughout the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gulfport CRTC’s mission centers on providing units the opportunity to execute readiness training exercises by providing support such as billeting, food service, ramps, and work space.

In early Spring, as COVID-19 swept through the nation, Gulfport CRTC Commander Col. Berry McCormick, said many units were forced to call off their plans due to infection risks. However, those cancellations opened a window of opportunity when the U.S. Navy approached the Mississippi National Guard seeking assistance in establishing a location for service members to social distance.

“The Gulfport CRTC had the capacity because of COVID. Units have been canceling their training because they can’t travel here. So I had the space,” McCormick said.

The MSNG entered an agreement allowing hundreds of Sailors from the U.S.S. Tripoli to stay at the Gulfport CRTC. Starting in late April, 530 Sailors evacuated to the base from their ship were allowed to move about while maintaining social distance requirements. Then in late June, the Navy decided to confine Sailors to their rooms for a period.

“We had 800 Sailors that needed to be quarantined for three weeks,” said Capt. William Whitmire, Gulfport Naval Construction Battalion Center commander. “None of the hotels or federal military installations in the area had the available space. However, the Guard had the ability to make it possible, and I’m not sure what we would have done without them.”

Months after the U.S.S. Tripoli set sail, the Gulfport CRTC welcomed active duty Airmen for a U.S. Air Force Restriction of Movement operation known as Camp Gulfport.

“We’re sort of not set up for this kind of thing without the cadre. I don’t have the manpower to do this,” McCormick said. “There is no way that we were ever going to get this done if the 403d Wing hadn’t stepped up to the plate. “

The 403d Reserve Wing, based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, provides slightly less than half of the cadre for Camp Gulfport. The reservists work alongside Guard members from several states. For the Mississippi National Guard, the team members include the 255th Air Control Squadron, 209th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, 186th Air Refueling Wing, and Gulfport CRTC. When Airmen arrive at Camp Gulfport, the staff conducts health screenings on the Airmen and assigns them to individual rooms. During an observation period for possible COVID-19 symptoms, the Airmen are only allowed a few hours outdoors each day during which they have to maintain social distancing.

“Honestly, we haven’t had to do mass Restriction of Movement before. COVID has created this for us,” said Lt. Col. Dena Williams, 403d Wing Camp Gulfport Detachment commander. “We’re going to exist for the time that we are needed and process as many deployers as possible.”

Most ROM operations are currently set up on active duty bases. Williams said the Air Force’s decision to establish a site at an Air National Guard base was heavily influenced by a backlog of deployments.

“They’re looking at beds, and they’re looking at the numbers that we can bring in,” said Williams. “That’s one of the appealing things about the CRTC. Setting up a restriction of movement on an active duty base can be limited in that they may only be able to relinquish a certain number of rooms versus what we have capability-wise here.”

During overseas deployments, it’s common for Guardsmen, reservists and active duty forces to work together to achieve a common goal. That same cooperation is taking place at Camp Gulfport. It’s an operation McCormick is proud to say is almost entirely comprised of Airmen who agreed to come when asked.

“I think it’s a testament to the can-do attitude and the willingness of Guardsmen and reservists to volunteer in a supporting role to help the war fighter on the other end,” McCormick said. "All the combatant commanders require manpower on a regular basis. Because of COVID, they have been unable to move the manpower to theater without doing this restriction of movement,” said McCormick. “Imagine that you’re sitting overseas. It doesn’t matter if you’re active duty, reservist or a Guardsman. You’ve been over there for six months, and your time is coming. But you’re not getting to come home, because no one is coming to replace you. That’s why this is a very important job.”