COVID-19: 2D MARDIV-led ‘Task Force Commitment’ deploys to MCRD Parris Island; troops ensure training pipeline unimpeded

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Collin P. Lybrand, 3rd Battalion 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, teaches a poolee basic drill movements at The Citadel, a public military college temporarily utilized to stage poolees for a 14-day observation period in Charleston, S.C., May 6, 2020. The Citadel will facilitate the continuation of the Marine Corps’ mission of making Marines while enhancing staging capabilities for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in response to COVID-19.

Somewhere in the U.S. sits a poolee – the title given to future U.S. Marine Corps recruits - patiently awaiting their report date to either Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island or Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, and wondering how the COVID-19 situation will affect them. Due to events surrounding COVID-19, the Marine Corps organized a special effort, dubbed “Task Force Commitment,” to ensure the health and safety of prospective recruits, as well as training personnel aboard the depots.

The task force includes Marines from major subordinate commands across II Marine Expeditionary Force, the majority of whom are from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (V36), 2d Marine Division. The Marines are working out of The Citadel, the military college in Charleston, S.C., and “providing additional measures in response to COVID-19,” according to Maj. Richard Martinez, the deputy officer-in-charge of Task Force Commitment. “The Marine Corps has implemented a 14-day staging period for every poolee that would arrive at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island or San Diego.”

The task force has been supporting recruit receiving operations since mid-April. It is one of the many efforts the Marine Corps adapted to combat the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus, especially at the recruit training depots, which receive hundreds of future Marines every month. The task force facilitates the 14-day isolation period, which is supplemented by the use of face masks and the practicing of social distancing. Furthermore, hand sanitizing/washing stations have been provided since the release of official guidance recommending the practice from The Center for Disease Control. Coincidentally, these efforts are implemented not just at the recruit training depots but at Marine Corps installations throughout the U.S.

“In addition to all of the measures the recruit depot is implementing, this [Task Force Commitment] is another layer to ensure they are cleared before they get started,” said Martinez.

The 2d Marine Division Marines managing the staging of poolees have already witnessed the effectiveness of their operation, when, during one of their first iterations, the depot received some poolees who initially tested positive for COVID-19 and were processed accordingly. Without the current quarantine process, the situation easily could have gone unnoticed.

“We were able to isolate those poolees and make sure it didn’t spread,” said Sgt. Samuel Whitehead, a platoon sergeant with India Company, V36, currently serving as a watch commander for Task Force Commitment. “Because we are able to mitigate that and make sure those poolees got to recruit training safely, we are able to ensure training continues.”

The efforts of the Marines go beyond disease prevention. One beneficial impact of the 14-day quarantine is the opportunity for the poolees to experience day-to-day interaction with Marines prior to commencing their 13-weeks of rigorous training.

“They are providing the necessary supervision, and also that first exposure outside of a recruiter of what a Marine is or how they should act,” said Martinez. “Every day the task force Marines spend interacting with the new arrivals is yet more opportunity to ensure they are that much better postured to undertake the rigors of recruit training.”

This exposure has resulted in recruits not only better prepared for recruit training, but also future Marines ready for more challenges, according to Whitehead.

“The majority of the after action we’ve received is these recruits catch on a lot faster,” Whitehead said. “They are able to go in already understanding basic customs and courtesies, and that allows drill instructors to go at a quicker pace, which ultimately means (follow on training) and the fleet gets a better Marine.”

The benefits of the challenges go beyond the recruits. According to Whitehead, this experience has had a favorable effect on the readiness of task force Marines and poolees alike.

“It’s been a triple win scenario,” said Whitehead. “The first is we’re stopping COVID from spreading. Second, these poolees and recruits have more time to develop, and third, the Marines that come down here are being tested in our ability to maintain professionalism and to perform duties outside of what we normally do, which will be a force multiplier when we get back to our units.”

Despite the universal disruption COVID-19 has caused, Marines continue to train and maintain readiness. The combined disease-prevention efforts of recruit training personnel and the Marines assigned to Task Force Commitment are ensuring the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of the accession pipeline.

“Recruit training is still going because the task force is here,” Martinez said. “It is a huge effort by all involved.”