Dr. Bier, Galveston’s Medical Director, shares his experiences, living conditions, and adventures while abroad, as well as how COVID-19 has impacted his deployment
Hospitality Health ER Galveston’s Medical Director, Dr. Scott Bier, has left his usual “station” in Galveston to report for duty. More specifically, as the COVID-19 cases continue to surge, Dr. Bier has departed on a 6-month deployment to Kuwait.
“In the Army I’m attempting to tackle this disease proactively (preventive medicine) rather than reactively (emergency medicine) as in my civilian practice.”
Dr. Bier has kept a monthly email blog detailing his adventures, travels, COVID-19 protocols, and more. These blogs have been sent out to his family and friends to keep in touch while away. The Hospitality Health ER team thought our clients and patients would love to see what our Medical Director is up to. Keep reading for a little look into what deployment is like during a pandemic.
Q: What are the living conditions like?
The headquarters for my unit, 36th Infantry Division, is Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, aka “AJ.” AJ is about 30-40 minutes from downtown Kuwait City and is the largest post in Kuwait. It’s run by the Army but houses service members from all the branches, as well as coalition forces and civilian contractors. It’s what we call a “mature post,” meaning that it has many amenities to keep those stationed there happy and morale high.
Aside from being away from friends and family, I bet you’re thinking this doesn’t sound that bad, which it wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for COVID. When we first arrived in October, most everything was shut down or significantly restricted but as we have now gotten a handle on the situation, things have started to open up, slowly.
Q: How did COVID-19 impact the mobilization process this time around?
Prior to deployment, docs go to the Continental United States Replacement Center (CRC) for training and final vetting. While this is my fourth deployment and 3rd time at CRC, this mobilization was very different from the prior two. The usual schedule is: arrive on Saturday, get done with all of your training and validations during the week, get on the plane by the following weekend.
Due to COVID, the Department of Defense now mandates that all those deploying need to quarantine for 2 weeks prior to leaving the country. To ensure we are “clean” when we get to wherever it is we’re going, we undergo ROM, or “restriction of movement”. This basically means we are locked on a compound that literally has a fence around it and a gate guard to make sure no one leaves.
All things considered, it could have been worse. The extra quarantine time made the pace much more enjoyable and I used the extra time to catch up on various projects.
Q: How did you celebrate holidays while on deployment?
They put on a nice spread for us here while we’re deployed. For Thanksgiving, everything was nicely decorated and the food was reasonably good. Several folks from my section started off the day with a socially distanced, virtual Turkey Trot (5K run), which was good because I probably ate more calories that day than I do in a normal week!
Christmas was also nice. They served turkey, multiple deserts, and alcohol-free wine for lunch. As the holiday happened to fall on a Friday this year, our crew honored one of the most sacred traditions of my “people” and had kosher Chinese food for Shabbat dinner. It’s been great having a rabbi chaplain deployed with us, a true rarity as there are not many in the Army. It’s made the Jewish holidays since I’ve been deployed very enjoyable.
Q: What are the current COVID-19 cases like?
Unlike back home, COVID is under control in most of the areas we cover medically, including AJ. The good news is that most of those infected here are asymptomatic and very few get sick enough to be hospitalized.
Our biggest challenge continues to come from new units rotating in from the United States. Through the screening and testing program I set up, we seem to have that problem under control. We hope that as more and more Soldiers get immunized prior to arrival, things will only get better.
Q: What protocols are in place for COVID-19?
In conjunction with my chain of command, I set up a program for new units coming into our area which has been very successful. Additionally, for those that do test positive for COVID, we have an isolation facility for quarantine to prevent spread. We do careful contact tracing of all positives to find close contacts who are also quarantined, but in a separate area of the isolation facility. We are very stringent in our infection control protocols, sometimes even more so than CDC recommendations, to help keep our force healthy and operational.
Q: Have you been able to visit any other bases?
I have had the opportunity to visit several bases in multiple countries during this deployment. My first trip was to Camp Buehring which I have at least touched on every one of my deployments. Altogether I’ve probably spent around 6 months there, so visiting it was a bit of a “homecoming.”
My team and I traveled there to tour their isolation facility and meet with the subordinate units of my Division, including the engineers, an armor brigade combat team, and a combat aviation brigade. Got to eat at my old dining facility, have coffee at Green Bean (Starbucks for deployment), and reminisce.
I also went on a scavenger hunt to find t-walls of deployments past. T-walls are cement barriers to enclose areas, including bunkers, headquarters buildings, etc. There’s a tradition where each unit does a mural painted on a t-wall to commemorate their deployment. I was able to find all the t-walls from my previous 3 deployments.
I also had the opportunity to travel with my boss, Brigadier General Adame, to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, also known as KSA. We traveled on a UC-35, which is the equivalent of a civilian short-range executive jet. A little crowded with 6 passengers in there, but still a pretty sweet ride! After landing, I was met by two of my Soldiers stationed there and was transported to a small base on the outskirts of Riyad called Eskan Village. Interestingly, this enclave served as the base of operations for “Stormin Norman” Schwarzkopf, who ran the first Gulf War out of a bunker still visible on premises.
We also got to visit Jordan. While there, I traveled to an Air Force base out in the country. On the way out there we drove through a desert that was black from volcanic rock. We also got the opportunity to do a recon for the evacuation route from the base to a host nation hospital we use for emergencies. Overall, I had a great time and it was a very successful visit for my situational awareness of the medical care being provided to our Soldiers in Jordan.
As part of my duties as Command Surgeon for Task Force Spartan, I also traveled to several locations around Kuwait City to assess them for safety as it pertains to COVID mitigation measures. Incidentally, “surgeon” in the Army usually means a doc who is attached to a maneuver unit as opposed to a hospital…I don’t actually do surgery! We visited Kuwait Towers, several malls, an outdoor market, and even a gun range. We presented our report to the commanding general and are hopeful based on our recommendations Soldiers will soon be able to start traveling to these locations as they had prior to COVID, to help improve morale.
Although Dr. Bier is eager to get back home to his wife, Sarah, and two children, Eliza and Brady, it sounds like he is making the most out of this opportunity. Thank you, Dr. Bier, for your dedication in helping others battle COVID-19 while preventing the spread, both on deployment and at home.
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