It’s a battle they didn’t expect, but Fort Riley soldiers are facing COVID-19 head-on

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JUNCTION CITY, Kan. — They’re the world’s most fearsome fighting force.

However, even the U.S. Army’s First Infantry has to confront the coronavirus. The post’s tank commanders are meeting COVID-19 head-on.

Fort Riley, which sits about two hours west of Kansas City in Junction City, is home to a unit known as “the Big Red One,” where soldiers master Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.

Capt. Luke Werner leads his 150-member unit through training on a series of high-intensity video games. They’re simulators that prepare soldiers for battle scenarios under stressful conditions.

“I can simulate both day and night shooting in this simulator. It will look exactly the same as you peer through the optics and periscopes, day or night,” Werner said.

Now, new weapons have been added to the Army’s arsenal — the ones used to fight the coronavirus.

Soldiers around Fort Riley are now often required to wear face masks. Hand washing stations and hand sanitizer bottles are frequent sights. Werner’s simulators are cleaned until they shine multiple times per day.

“We’ve increased the kind of disinfectant that we’re using so we can get after getting the coronavirus off any surfaces,” Werner said. “I’ve been able to manage my troops to come in and remain lethal and ready to answer the nation’s call in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We have PPE we have to wear anyway. When it comes to that, it’s just like another mission that we’re facing, so it doesn’t affect us in any way, shape or form,” SSgt. Cloyce Underwood said.

“It’s definitely a battle we didn’t see coming. Just like anything, the Army has to be prepared for it. We’ve combated it how we were trained to,” PSC Shaun Koserski said.

 Leaders at Fort Riley have reported only one COVID-based concern. That happened in April, when a convenience store worker tested positive for the virus.

The Army now requires all visitors to buildings on post to have their temperatures taken and to wear face masks as a precaution.

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