FORT JACKSON, S.C. – “I woke up in the morning and felt horrible. I had a high fever and slight pain,” recalled Pvt. Carlos Mora. “I told the drill sergeants, and they took me to the hospital. I spent a week in quarantine when I found out I officially had COVID-19.”
“I have no idea how I got the virus,” reflected Spc. Juan Guajardo, 36. “I got a fever, was really weak and I had aches. I coughed a lot, and when I blew my nose, I had red spots. I went to the hospital and they did the test. I was positive.”
Mora and Guajardo would become two of the first Fort Jackson trainees to contract the 2019 novel coronavirus. On May 14, they were among the graduates standing tall on Hilton Field as their friends and family members tuned in through the Fort Jackson Facebook page.
They were assigned to 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment when they began feeling ill. They would soon be joined by another handful of fellow battalion members in quarantine.
“It wasn’t too bad; I was out of breath and had a cough,” said Mora, a 21-year-old from Puerto Rico. “Others had it worse. It scared me because they were about my age too.”
“When we got our phones back, I called my mom first and she was very worried about me,” Guajardo said. “She’s in Mexico, and it’s bad there. I’m scared for her, but she is staying inside and away from people.”
After two weeks, both Soldiers felt better and were again tested for the virus using Bio-Fire and GeneXpert equipment recently acquired by Moncrief Army Health Clinic. Within a day, the two tested negative and were able to continue their training. Since both had missed roughly three weeks of instruction, they were reassigned to 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment. Their typical 10-week basic training cycle had become 13 weeks.
“It took me an extra week to breathe right again,” Mora said of his return. “I made it though.”
“I really wanted to graduate with my old company,” Guajardo said. “I’m looking forward to starting advanced individual training and being able to talk to my family every day again.”
Guajardo is an Army Reserve Soldier who will attend AIT at Fort Gordon, Ga., to become an Information Technology Specialist. After he graduates from there, he will return to his hometown of Tampa, Fla, and his wife.
Mora will become a 91B – Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic after he graduates AIT at Fort Lee’s Ordnance School.
Both said they are taking the battle against the spread and containment of the virus seriously and are encouraging family members and friends to do the same.
“I don’t wish this on them,” Mora said. “After talking to a friend back home and telling her I had COVID-19, she wrote me a letter saying she is using hand sanitizer and masks more.”
Since the virus was first detected at Fort Jackson, daily operations began changing swiftly as post leadership implemented health and safety measures such as daily temperature monitoring, additional cleaning of personal living spaces and company areas, the use of cloth face coverings and issued neck gators, and restricting family members and friends from attending graduation and Family Day events.
Due to these measures, no Soldier from 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment has tested positive for the virus.
“I think it’s a testament to the safeguards and mitigation measures we have in place here on Fort Jackson,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Collins, commander of the battalion. “Those young Soldiers were identified early, isolated from the rest of the trainee population and were taken well care of throughout their time in quarantine by the Moncrief medical staff.”
Collins also said the health and safety measures his cadre exhibit and enforce helps keep Soldiers safe and can ease family members’ fears of their loved ones’ health.
“Our cadre have done a phenomenal job,” Collins said. “All the credit goes to them.”
Through mutual coordination between Fort Jackson and Training and Doctrine Command, Mora and Guajardo are expected to arrive at their AIT sites within a week. As for Collins and his cadre, they will take a much needed break before resetting the battalion’s supplies, living space and training aids in anticipation of the next training cycle.