Health concerns limit access to YPG

U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) Commander Col. Ross Poppenberger has emphasized that the safety and security of YPG personnel is the highest priority of the proving ground’s leadership, and that YPG’s vital mission in support of the warfighter will continue despite COVID-19 fears. "Although we will use extreme caution, implement better hygiene practices, and practice social distancing, we will remain open and do the hard work we do every day,” he said.

To maintain operational readiness and protect the soldiers, the Department of the Army has raised the Health Protection Condition level to “Charlie” across all installations, which means access to Yuma Proving Ground will be restricted until further notice.

The restriction does not apply to residents who live on the base, including those who reside at the trailer park, employees who are civilian contractors and other personnel who come to YPG for authorized purposes.

YPG, which has 2,200 civilian employees, will remain open and continue to conduct testing, while also implementing safety measures to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus, according to the commanding officer Col. Ross Poppenberger.

“It has got to continue because we are in the forefront for modernization for national defense,” Poppenberger said. “It is what we do here and we are going to keep that mission going.”

Since March 16 there has been an 18 percent decrease in the amount of testing conducted at the proving ground, largely as a result of a Department of Defense-wide official travel restriction that prevents customers from other parts of the country from coming here. 

That reduction in testing, however, is expected to ramp back up once the travel restrictions are lifted.

“Once we are beyond this hopefully short-term crisis, our program customers will still have a lot of work they will be counting on us to perform,” Poppenberger said, while expressing his confidence in the workforce’s dedication and resiliency in the weeks to come.

To make up for the shortfall, and to keep personnel working wherever possible, YPG planners are filling the downtime with routine, lower priority testing and programs, as well as having civilian employees perform their yearly training.

Additionally, 40% of the YPG workforce is currently working remotely from home. Personnel who can’t work remotely have implemented social distancing and increased hygiene measures in the workplace.

 Soldiers have also been restricted to local leave, and civilian personnel are encouraged to not travel outside of the Yuma area.

Among the safety precautions being implemented are in-person meetings limited to groups of 10 or fewer, with six feet of distance between those physically in attendance. Video teleconferencing is also used to minimize the number of in-person participants.

Out on the firing ranges, weapons operators and other test personnel who routinely hold after-action huddles at the end of the day are conducting the briefs by email instead. Lunchrooms in workshops are empty.

The installation’s library and gymnasium are also currently closed, and will be for the duration of the crisis, while all restaurants on base closed their dining rooms and converted to carry-out orders only.

The Heritage Center Museum had already temporarily closed prior to the outbreak and several Yuma-based community events that YPG routinely participates in such as the Yuma Air Show and Yuma’s Military Appreciation Day, were cancelled.

Poppenberger said that three people from YPG were outside the country on temporary duty when the outbreak occurred. Those individuals returned on March 23, are self-quarantining themselves for 14 days, and are showing no signs of the illness.

There were also five people who were overseas for personal travel, who have also been placed in quarantine. None show signs of the illness either.

“To date we have only tested one person, and they did not appear to have the virus,” Poppenberger said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Jamathon Nelson, the highest-rankling enlisted personnel on base, added that while the 276 soldiers stationed at YPG rarely deploy, the base does have training schools that are routinely attended.

While there currently aren’t any at YPG, Nelson said if any were to arrive to the base, they would be quarantined. 

Unlike other Army bases, where soldiers often have to room together in groups of two or four, that is not the case at YPG, where, because there are so few, they each have their own rooms.

“I truly believe in the processes the Centers for Disease Control have been advocating,”  Poppenberger said. “These measures are in place to buy us time in developing solutions to this problem. We will carry on and get through this together.”

James Gilbert can be reached at jgilbert@yumasun.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.

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