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Fort Drum brigades work quickly to process soldiers before deployment

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FORT DRUM — Post officials are putting the final touches on processing thousands of 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Team soldiers through required paperwork and medical testing so that they can deploy early next year.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 soldiers from each brigade will be going to Afghanistan, and per military guidance, soldiers must receive medical checks at the brigade level within 60 days of their departure, which are in addition to quarterly checks at the battalion level.

Maj. Cornelius J. Pope, senior human resources officer for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, said the brigade had a window of time to utilize the post’s Soldier Readiness Center that started Nov. 6 and ends Friday, a period that had multiple holidays. The tight schedule required quick action.

“It’s like herding cats,” he said

Lt. Jeremy J. Searles, the brigade’s medical supply officer, said during the processing window, three groups of soldiers cycle through the center each day. The center can process a maximum of 180 soldiers per day.

Among the shots soldiers receive include vaccinations for smallpox, anthrax, typhoid and Hepatitis A, and even Hepatitis B depending on the soldiers’ job in theater.

“They make it quick and painless; well maybe not painless, but it’s quick,” Lt. Searles joked.

Soldiers also receive checks of their medication, as well as dental and vision assessments, along with baseline tests of brain function that serve as a baseline in case of possible head injuries.

The soldiers also go through a series of paperwork, from simple items like ensuring their ID card will remain valid during the deployment period to updating their life insurance beneficiaries and emergency contacts, which is considered important as the military has an obligation to reach listed contacts within 24 hours in cases of death or major injury.

Soldiers can also have the opportunity to create a will and set up a power of attorney.

Maj. Pope said that the brigade’s processing could be finished today, a day ahead of schedule.

“It was quite a feat to say the least,” he said. Lt. Searles said the last piece of work that will need to be completed is scheduling follow-up medical appointments for soldiers with issues raised in processing and collecting data to ensure all the deploying soldiers had been seen.

Even those not leaving in January will have to go through the processing early next year, in case they are called up to deploy to replace another soldier.

Rear detachment soldiers will go through the processing through January and February.

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