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173rd Airborne Tests 100% COVID-19 Free After Seven Weeks in the Field

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 Aug. 27, 2020 | BY ARMY SPC. RYAN LUCAS

As Exercise Saber Junction 20 wound down and the 173rd Airborne Brigade prepared to redeploy to Vicenza, Italy, and Grafenwoehr, Germany, brigade medical personnel administered COVID-19 tests to the entire force, Aug. 21, 2020.

While the brigade finished it’s exercise, medical personnel administered 2,500 swabs and rapid testing in Landstuhl, Germany. All tests came back negative for the virus.

”We’re conducting 100% testing of the brigade in order to ensure the health and safety of our soldiers and allies during the movement of our troops back to Italy,” said Army Staff Sgt. Michael Aponte, a laboratory technician in the brigade.

An army medic in full protective gear tests a soldiers for COVID-19.

Four battalions of the 173rd Airborne Brigade are based in Vicenza, Italy, while another two are based in Grafenwoehr, Germany. Prior to the beginning of Exercise Saber Junction 20 and the preceding field training exercise in Grafenwoehr Training Area, all Italian-based paratroopers were tested for COVID-19.

”We tested the force in Italy before moving forward to Germany,” Aponte said. ”Today we’re going to take care of the whole brigade and some attachments that we have with us.”

In order to accommodate the testing, the brigade took a tactical pause and temporarily suspended the simulated wartime environment. Spread across the vast Hohenfels Training Area, each battalion sent medical personnel to pick up the testing equipment from the brigade.

”The brigade is providing the tools and each battalion is adjusting to their area of operations,” Aponte said. The 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, for example, used one of the simulated towns to carry out their testing, while the Brigade Support Battalion used tents.

Army medics in protective gear swab test soldiers for COVID-19.

Army Pfc. Frank Croce, a medic assigned to the Brigade Support Battalion, assisted in the testing of 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. Commenting on the testing site, Croce said they were able to set it up very quickly after the tactical pause began.

”It’s a hasty setup, but it’s effective,” Croce said.

Once each battalion finished swabbing their entire personnel roster, the brigade collected the samples and shipped them off in a UH-60 Black Hawk for testing. As of Aug. 22, all samples tested negative. 

(Army Spc. Ryan Lucas is assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade).


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