Updated June 23, 2020
There are important developments in the Department of Defense response to the COVID-19 crisis. The Defense Department has issued information about the DoD response to the global pandemic; at the time of this writing the DoD has “placed more than $3 billion in contract obligations, spanning more than 18,000 actions to combat the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The Defense Logistics Agency is responsible for the procurement of nearly six million N95 respirators, more than 14 million non-medical masks, more than one hundred million gloves, and eight thousand ventilators.
This in spite of the coronavirus having caused “a slowdown of all programs in the defense industrial base” according to a DoD press release, which adds that the outbreak has disrupted “defense manufacturing facilities and production lines, disrupting supply chains and distressing the financial stability of the companies DOD relies on to protect the nation.”
Green Travel Zones–Restrictions Lifted
The Secretary of Defense signed a memo directing the Department of Defense to switch to a “conditions-based, phased approach” to personnel movement (see below) such as Permanent Change of Station moves, Temporary Duty, leave, and other movement.
The publication of “Transition to Conditions-based Phased Approach to Coronavirus Disease 2019 Personnel Movement and Travel Restrictions” made it possible for a number of locations to be declared “green” travel locations unhampered by restrictions. In June 2020, that list included the following areas:
- Puerto Rico
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
Stateside, 46 states have been deemed fit to be added to the “green” list, which wasn’t arrived at arbitrarily; there are conditions which must be met in order to be declared a “green” travel location. Those conditions include:
- Removal of shelter-in-place orders or other travel restrictions;
- 14-day downward trajectory of flu-like and COVID-19-like symptoms;
- 14-day downward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases or positive tests.
U.S. Navy Will Not Reinstate Captain Brett Crozier to The U.S.S. Roosevelt
Captain Brett Crozier was relieved of command of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt after sending an email expressing concerns over a ship-wide outbreak of coronavirus. On June 19, 2020, the Department of Defense issued a press release announcing that after an investigation, Crozier will not be reinstated as the Captain of the Roosevelt.
Admiral Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations announced, “I will not reassign Capt. Brett Crozier as the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, nor will he be eligible for future command,”.
Gilday made the statement during a Pentagon news briefing, adding that Rear Admiral Stuart Baker, commander of the Roosevelt’s aircraft carrier’s strike group is also under fire for failing to meet command expectations.
What kind of expectations? According to Defense.gov, both leaders “failed to move sailors off the aircraft carrier as quickly as they could have, and failed to move them to a safer environment more quickly” according to Gilday.
He adds that Captain Brett Crozier “exercised questionable judgment when he released sailors from quarantine on the ship, which put his crew at higher risk and may have increased the spread of the virus aboard the Theodore Roosevelt.”
What was the main issue regarding Crozier’s actions associated with the e-mail? DoD officials remind that communication must follow the chain of command, and that direct contact with higher parts of that chain are rare.
Admiral Gilday says in such cases, the sender “must ensure that all of the means of communication within the chain of command have been thoroughly exhausted and that they have a full understanding of all the facts, and that they include all members of their chain of command in that communication,” which according to the DoD did NOT happen with Crozier’s email.
Some in that chain of command felt Crozier should be reinstated; that feeling was not as prominent after the investigation into the facts of the outbreak on board the Roosevelt and how it was handled. Gilday holds that the investigation, not the email, kept Crozier from getting his job back. The
findings of the more detailed investigation, rather than the existence of the leaked letter, that have prevented Crozier from being reinstated as commander of the Roosevelt. Rear Admiral Stuart Baker, the Admiral above Crozier who commanded the strike group, has had his review for a promotion to a two-star put on hold.
Coronavirus Restrictions And Improving Conditions
The memo indicates that “improving conditions” make it possible to transition out of the stop-movement order phase of the DoD’s COVID-19 containment efforts. That said, “stop-move” is not out of the picture. According to the memorandum, all DoD workers and military members will “stop movement, both internationally and domestically, while this memorandum is in effect, unless the conditions listed in the memo are met.”
What does it take to be considered for a removal of stop-movement restrictions? The DoD uses White House guidelines found in Opening Up America Again guidelines as the foundation, with the use of additional data required.
That data is sourced from the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All this must also be supplemented with input from “Services and Combatant Commands”.
According to the Dod press release announcing these measures, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness is charged with continuous assessments of any area hosting more than 1,000 permanently assigned DoD personnel. To remove shelter-in-place restrictions and other lockdown measures, the following should apply:
- Local removal of shelter-in-place or other lockdown measures;
- A 14-day downward trajectory of flu-like and COVI D-19-like symptoms;
- A 14-day downward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases or positive tests.
This set of requirements means that it’s not simply a matter of local commanders deciding “everything is fine now” and reopening.
The requirement that locally imposed restrictions be lifted as a condition of reducing HPCON levels or easing shelter-in-place rules for military members makes it necessary to consider what is happening “on the ground” in any local area where commanders may wish to ease travel restrictions.
Stop Movement/Restriction Of Movement Exceptions
One important aspect of these guidelines? A lengthy list of exceptions to stop-movement rules including travel for basic training, advanced training, and relocation to a first duty station. Other exceptions include allowing travel for those who left their previous duty station and are in “awaiting transportation” mode.
Military members who were authorized to travel and have already started their journey are also authorized to proceed as long as their final destination is listed on their military orders. Those traveling on TDY orders whose TDY ends while the new directive is in effect are also permitted to return to their permanent duty station.
Those who must travel for professional military education (PME) are also authorized to travel under the list of current exceptions.
The Second Milestone
The second of these two developments involved publication of Force Health Protection Guidance – Supplement 9. That document provides guidance on deployment, redeployment, and return from deployment for service members, National Guard members and DOD civilian employees “deploying within and outside the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
In the days leading up to publication of Supplement 9, the Department of Defense announced phased reopenings of military bases. According to a Dod press release on Supplement 9, “Commanders are now ordered to consult with medical leadership” when trying to reopen with reduced Health Protection Conditions (HPCON) at the local level.
Prior to Supplement 9, Secretary Of Defense, Mark Esper, ”Commanders may set HPCON levels that are more stringent than surrounding community requirements” if there are mission requirements and “other risk considerations” that apply. In cases where the commander wishes to set “less stringent” HPCON levels, those decisions are subject to review from the next level in the chain of command.
Pre-Deployment Restricted Movement
One significant detail of Supplement 9 is the requirement of a mandatory Restriction Of Movement (ROM) order for all service members who must deploy outside the United States. Under Supplement 9, all military members regardless of deployment destination must undergo a mandatory 14 day ROM prior to that deployment.
The instructions indicate that when there is a deployment where ROM is performed upon arrival in the host country, the “predeployment ROM” is not necessary.
According to a DoD memorandum announcing these changes, “Commanders shall coordinate changes in HPCON levels with other DoD installations in their local commuting area to facilitate consistency.”
That memorandum notes that before HPCON levels can be changed, “gating” criteria must be met:
- “Downward trajectory” of cases of flu or COVID-19-like illnesses over the previous 14 days;
- Downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases and/or positive tests as a “percent of total tests over the preceding 14-day period”;
- Military Medical Treatment Facilities (or local hospitals) must have the capacity to treat “all patients without situational standards of care”
- There must be “adequate diagnostic COVID-19 testing” for at-risk healthcare workers and those with symptoms.
Prior to this, a statement issued by Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper notes the possibility of the need to address a second wave of COVID-19 containment measures. Quoted in a May 7th media event at U.S. Northern Command, Esper went on the record with his official response, saying the Department of Defense is “preparing for a second wave and maybe more”.
Esper admitted there is no way to predict “the trajectory of this virus”, in direct contradiction to statements issued from the White House earlier in the pandemic intimating that the virus could disappear on its own “like magic”.
While the White House later softened its’ optimistic tone on that front, many elected officials have been quite vocal about reopening the country. But Secretary Esper, in an unenviable position between the Commander-in-Chief and the U.S. public, maintains that in order to maintain a viable fighting force, caution is greatly needed.
“We don’t know what the trajectory of this virus will be. So we — we listen to the medical experts. We’ve actually spoken with Drs. Birk — Birx and Fauci. We are preparing for the long haul.” The “we” in this case is the DoD, rather than the country at large. But the writing on the wall is plain to read.
How long does the DoD plan to continue the containment measures necessary to forestall the spread of coronavirus among its ranks? According to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in one update, “we’ll be at this for a number of months, at least until we get a vaccine.” On that front, Esper notes that the Department of Defense has worked with its own research teams to find therapy for those who already have COVID-19, and vaccinations for those who do not have it.
“We’re making some good headway on that, but we’re also partnered up with our other public sector partners and the private sector to do that. So, again, we’re preparing for the long haul”.
Medical experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci have noted that without a vaccine, the virus is still capable of doing a great deal of harm to the public in general.
Not All Military Branches Are Ready To Relax COVID-19 Restrictions
In spite of recent moves to begin or contemplate beginning to relax coronavirus containment measures (see above), some branches of the military are continuing to observe more strict measures; a good example of that was announced on Friday May 22 when the Air Force extended a suspension of fitness testing until October or later. Physical fitness testing was previously scheduled for June, 2020.
In a related announcement, the U.S. Army has announced social distancing measures that will be used for the U.S. Army Cadet Command Summer Training Program. Typically held at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in 2020 “All training“ for Basic and Advanced cadet training camps will not happen in a central event.
The Army is moving toward “a distributed execution of training on campuses during the fall semester”. Army officials say this adjustment was necessary to meet “all of our training requirements” but adds that a coronavirus-related inability to complete training “as we normally do will not hinder any Cadets ability to move forward in ROTC.”
U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Lowers HPCON Levels Except In Seoul
USFK has, based on South Korea’s containment of COVID-19, chosen to lower the Health Protection Condition for troops stationed there from Charlie to Bravo, with the notable exception of Seoul, which remains in Charlie until further notice. Non-essential travel is restricted–those troops outside “Area II” (Seoul) cannot travel into Seoul with its’ continued HPCON Charlie status.
A Show Of Readiness
The Department of Defense made a show of military readiness capability during the coronavirus outbreak. The Air Force flew bomber jets on long-range flying missions to Europe, all from bases located stateside.
According to several sources these missions were flown to demonstrate capability has not been eroded during the pandemic. The following missions have been flown in the month of May:
- One B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota
- Two B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth AFB
- Two B-2 Spirit bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri
- Two B-52H Stratofortresses from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota
- Two B-52s from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana
The DoD’s priority continues to include “protecting our 3 million service members, their families and all of our government, civilian and defense contractor personnel, while continuing our national security missions and helping the American people confront this crisis”.
Past Milestones In The U.S Response To Coronavirus
U.S. Forces Korea declared an initial emergency on March 25, 2020, and in early May renewed that emergency declaration for another 30 days.
That proved to be a good move as the South Korean government moved to close all bars and nightclubs in Seoul following an outbreak of cases after a May weekend where South Korean partiers flocked to those clubs.
Patrons may have been grateful to return to nightlife, but they soon learned they had been exposed to coronavirus. Some sources report that one infected patron visited three clubs in a single evening. A massive contact tracing effort began in Seoul, but the damage was already done–stricter countermeasures were installed there to prevent further spread of the disease.
Boots On The Ground
In early May some 62,000 service members were at work in the United States to fight COVID-19 including:
- Approximately 44,000 National Guard troops;
- 5,000 Reservists;
- 4,000 health care professionals
DoD efforts included a large volume of procurement of Personal Protective Equipment or PPE. In early May 2020, that procurement effort included:
- 9 million N95 respirator masks
- 2 million non-medical and surgical masks
- 2 million exam gloves
- 4 million isolation and surgical gowns
- 8,000 ventilators
- Delivery of over 5 million non-medical cloth face masks
While the Department of Defense refined its efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic impact sent more than seven thousand newly-discharged veterans to the unemployment line the week of April 18 alone. That’s according to a report issued by the Department of Labor and was basically a snapshot of that moment in time; unemployment numbers have changed even more since then.
A U.S. Navy Investigation
The Navy, in the minds of some, was blindsided by the COVID-19 situation that occurred onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt; that ship’s captain, Brett Crozier, was relieved of duty following an email requesting help to contain the viral outbreak on board the Roosevelt (see below) but once talk of reinstating Crozier began, it became clear that coronavirus has brought some quite unexpected consequences for those underway or about to depart a home port.
Careers have been completely altered by the virus and/or response to it; In the case of Crozier’s firing, a move began in Navy circles to review the entire decision making process in the chain of command that led to the debacle on board the Roosevelt.
Reports Of COVID-19 Concerns Aboard The USS Theordore Roosevelt, Again
The New York Times reported sailors returning to duty on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt showing symptoms of COVID-19 amid fears of a resurgence on board that ship and others.
According to the Times, “Medical personnel and crew members aboard the Roosevelt say that several returning sailors have displayed symptoms that they associate with the coronavirus” but the same paragraph notes that Navy leadership is taking a different approach, trying to blame the flu after asserting these sailors were tested negative, “twice”.
But that has created tensions and dischord (according to the Times) among medical professionals working to restore the Roosevelt to be fit for duty, virus-free.
And the Navy hasn’t been quite as mindful regarding some of these issues as you might expect; that same Times report includes mention of an incident where “several sailors” with coronavirus symptoms were “accidentally placed on a bus” headed back to the USS Roosevelt. The entire bus had to be returned to quarantine.
Other Navy Ships And Coronavirus
The USS Kidd was ordered back to Naval Base San Diego after an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred on board; the Kidd was underway in the Carribean when one crewmember who was COVID-19 positive potentially infected 16 others; the ship was forced to head back to port. Most of the 330-sailor crew was evacuated from the ship; decontamination efforts began with some 90 sailors remaining on-board to assist; the others are in quarantine or being treated where applicable. The Kidd and the Roosevelt have been front and center in some reporting when it comes to talk of whether it’s appropriate to return to work without more testing, social distancing, etc.
U.S. Navy Stops Updating COVID-19 Numbers On Board Its Vessels
A May 3, 2020 article by the LA Times notes that Navy officials have chosen to stop updating COVID-19 case numbers on board its ships. Pentagon spokesperson was quoted on Friday, 1 May 2020, as saying the Navy is “past the point where the daily updates are providing useful information for public conversation.”
An Online COVID-19 Symptom Checker, But Not A Tool For Diagnosis
MySymptoms.mil, created by the Defense Digital Service.
According to a DoD press release, this website is an official, online, and anonymous tool designed to “assess the likelihood someone may have COVID-19 based on a series of simple health-related questions”.
The press release adds that the website provides resources to get more advice. It should be noted that the resources and advice dispensed by MySymptoms.mil are aimed squarely at DoD personnel and not the general public. Anyone can use the site, it is free and there are no signups required.
The site is easy to use, and the questions you are asked pertain to your symptoms, your recent travel history, and other factors.
By answering the questions you are NOT getting a positive or negative diagnosis for COVID-19, instead you are getting an estimate of your LIKELIHOOD of infection by COVID-19. The site is live at press time and answering the questions takes under five minutes.
National Guard And Active Duty Team Up
A May 5, 2020 press release issued on the DoD official site for coronavirus updates announced a strategic partnership between the New Jersey Guard, Active Duty, civilians working for U.S. Northern Command, and others responding to the pandemic in New Jersey. Roughly 700 Guard members are having their relief efforts coordinated and enhanced by the effort.
“We are essentially a liaison office between the Office of Emergency Management and the rest of the New Jersey National Guard,” according to Army Spc. Benjamin Castria, a full-time JOC team member who was quoted in the DoD press release, adding that they also field information requests from the Washington D.C. National Guard Bureau, too.
Air Force Innovation
Air Force troops have innovated a patient transport system that could help move COVID-19 patients without endangering a flight crew responsible for taking them to care. The new approach uses steel shipping containers known as CONEX boxes, and uses “negative pressurization” to protect the crew from potential virus exposure. In order to work according to DoD guidelines, the container had to meet four qualification:
- “Contain” the coronavirus so that aircrew and the aircraft are not exposed;
- Be usable for aeromedical operations;
- Be certifiably “airworthy”;
- “Have the potential” to be safe to fly.
Among the stranger headlines in the last week of April 2020? One state governor using National Guard troops to defend shipments of COVID-19 tests from…the federal government.
An ABCNews.com report from May 1, 2020 reports Maryland Governor Larry Hogan being so concerned over the fate of coronavirus test kits ordered from South Korea that Maryland National Guard troops were used to safeguard the kits from federal seizure.
Such seizures have been reported in other states; an April edition of Government Technology Magazine included the headline, “Test Kit Materials Bound for Washington State Seized by Feds”. That headline referenced a story reporting that test kits headed to PeaceHealth medical facilities were seized by federal government officials and redirected to the East Coast.
A delivery of test kit materials that would have allowed Bellingham’s St. Joseph hospital and other PeaceHealth medical facilities in the Northwest to run COVID-19 tests quicker were seized and diverted by the federal government to the East Coast, PeaceHealth reports.
Some Test Kit Seizures Are Actually Law Enforcement Activities
Such reports should not be confused with news stories of federal agents seizing bogus test kits;
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Los Angeles International Airport seized a package “containing suspected counterfeit COVID-19 test kits” sent here from the United Kingdom according to a press release at the U.S. Customs official site. The bogus test kits contained “vials filled with a white liquid and labeled ‘Corona Virus 2019nconv (COVID-19)’ and ‘Virus1 Test Kit’”.
USNS Comfort Says Goodbye To New York
The New York mission of the USNS Comfort is now over, the Navy official site reports the Comfort was ordered back to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. The Comfort was ordered back into “Ready 5” status so it could be used for future missions to fight COVID-19.DoD.
DoD committed over $75 million in Defense Production Act finding aimed specifically at coronavirus testing needs; the expenditure will increase medical test swab production “by 20 million per month starting in May” according to a DoD press release. A company called Puritan Medical Products was the recipient of the contract, “which will quickly establish a new manufacturing facility” intended to double the output to 40 million swabs per month. This is just one example of DoD efforts in conjunction with private companies.
The Latest Numbers
Undersecretary of Defense Helen Lord gave a DoD coronavirus response press briefing, which began with recognition of and condolences to the 27 families associated with Defense Department coronavirus deaths.
She also restated the DoD’s priority of “protecting our 3 million service members, their families and all of our government, civilian and defense contractor personnel, while continuing our national security missions and helping the American people confront this crisis”.
At the time of the press briefing, some 60,000 service members are at work in the United States to fight COVID-19:
- 44,000 National Guard troops;
- 5,000 Reservists;
- 4,000 health care professionals
At briefing time, DoD efforts include a large volume of procurement of Personal Protective Equipment or PPE:
- 9 million N95 respirator masks
- 2 million non-medical and surgical masks
- 2 million exam gloves
- 4 million isolation and surgical gowns
- 8,000 ventilators
- Delivery of over 5 million non-medical cloth face masks
The Department of Defense continues its efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic; the economic impact of the pandemic sent more than seven thousand newly-discharged veterans to the unemployment line the week of April 18 alone, according to a report issued by the Department of Labor.
Navy Ships And Coronavirus
The USS Kidd was ordered back to Naval Base San Diego after an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred on board; the Kidd was underway in the Carribean when one crewmember who was COVID-19 positive potentially infected 16 others; the ship was forced to head back to port. Most of the 330-sailor crew was evacuated from the ship; decontamination efforts began with some 90 sailors remaining on-board to assist; the others are in quarantine or being treated where applicable.
U.S. Forces Korea Renews Emergency Declaration
US Forces Korea has renewed its public health emergency declaration for an additional 30 days, expiring on May 23 unless renewed again. The initial emergency was declared on March 25, 2020.
Basic Training, Reserve Drilling, Service Academies
Some Defense Department decisions were made in anticipation of the current situation (which was such that an extension of the DoD travel ban was ordered for all military members upon the 15-day review of the policy); while Navy Reserve Activities remain open to hold mission-critical training, all regular weekend Navy Reserve drill activities have been postponed until at least May 11.
The Marine Corps Reserve cancelled its drill weekends “until further notice”. Air Force leadership has suspended a wide range of activities until May 15, 2020 including air show appearances by the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team.
Coronavirus quarantine efforts have affected recruiting and retention efforts; the Army paused the shipments of new recruits to basic training earlier in April, but training continued for those who were already in a program before current coronavirus restrictions went into place. Some service academies held scaled-down graduation ceremonies but did not cancel them altogether.
The Army has since resumed allowing new recruits to come to basic training, but now there are measures in place that allow basic training to resume; the Army is also reviewing proposals for testing, isolation, and release of units so they can resume training in the field.
West Virginia National Guard troops pitched in on an innovation to help decontaminate airports, office buildings, and any other structure that has an HVAC system; National Guard troops there experimented with aerosolized hydrogen peroxide as a method of sterilizing heating and air conditioning systems to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Pentagon coronavirus containment policies were updated to require “body temperature screenings” for all Pentagon visitors. Using infrared scanning technology, any visitor with a detected temperature is re-screened and those who are confirmed as having an elevated body temperature cannot enter the facility.
HPCON D For Armed Forces Nursing Homes
The Department of Defense has announced that Armed Forces Nursing homes in Washington D.C. and in Gulfport Missouri are currently at HPCON D, which is the highest Health Protection Condition possible.
The Charleston Gazette reports West Virginia National Guard troops working on an innovation to help decontaminate airports, office buildings, and any other structure that has an HVAC system; National Guard troops there are experimenting with aerosolized hydrogen peroxide as a method of sterilizing heating and air conditioning systems to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Pentagon coronavirus containment policies have been updated to require “body temperature screenings” for all Pentagon visitors. Using infrared scanning technology, any visitor with a detected temperature is re-screened and those who are confirmed as having an elevated body temperature cannot enter the facility.
USS Theodore Roosevelt Captain Will Not Be Reinstated
Captain Brett Crozier was relieved of command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after sending a controversial e-mail asking for help dealing with a shipboard coronavirus outbreak. Since that time the case has come under review and the New York Times reports top Navy leadership is giving serious thought to having Crozier return to duty as Captain of the Roosevelt.
The Defense Department has announced an aggressive testing and quarantine policy targeting both symptomatic patients and those who display no symptoms whatsoever; the DoD goal is to begin testing servicemembers in mission-essential positions with a mind to have full testing capacity for this effort at the end of April 2020.
There are also new policies for troops who cannot serve AND observe social isolation such as those on board Navy vessels currently underway, new recruits in Basic Training, etc.
After an investigation into the email incident, the United States Navy chose not to reinstate Captain Brett Crozier after being relieved of command.
What Happened On Board The USS Roosevelt
Navy Captain Brett E. Crozier, Captain of the USS Theordore Roosevelt was relieved of command after writing a letter pleading for help with his subordinates and shipmates who tested positive on board the Roosevelt while it was underway.
That letter wound up being seen by a wide range of people, created a firestorm on Capitol Hill, and notably the Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas B. Modly, made further headlines courtesy of some name-calling aimed at Crozier. And at the tail end of the matter, Former USS Roosevelt Captain Brett Crozier tested positive for coronavirus.
On April 13, Dod sources announced the death of a sailor aboard the Roosevelt; there have been four sailors (not including Crozier) who have tested positive for coronavirus.
One important development for civilians; DOD now allows payments to contractors “who cannot work due to COVID-19 facility closures or other restrictions”. These payments are made possible via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Thomas B. Modly Military Service
Acting SecNav, Thomas B. Modly, served in the United States Navy as an UH-1N pilot and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science, with distinction and left active duty in 1990 to attend business school and to pursue a career in the private sector.
800 COVID-19 Positives Among USS Theodore Roosevelt Crew
The Navy completed a full round of COVID-19 testing for sailors who served on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt; 800 sailors assigned that vessel tested positive to date. What is critical about this story? According to some sources, of those 800+ sailors, as many as 300 were asymptomatic and circulating among the rest of the crew.
The Navy reported more than four thousand sailors tested negative for COVID-19. 88 sailors on board the Roosevelt tested positive, but some who initially got negative test results back were later found to be infected.
That is an important factor to consider for people on the fence about wearing face masks and other PPE in public.
Department of Veterans Affairs Reports More COVID-19 Deaths
The Department of Veterans Affairs has reported the 400th death in 40 days of a patient from the fast-spreading coronavirus. At press time, VA coronavirus numbers include the following:
- 6,363 veterans in VA care are COVID-19 positive.
- 71 VA facilities have at least one patient death associated with coronavirus.
- 133 VA facilities have recorded “at least one” case of coronavirus.
Military Numbers For COVID-19
Some sources report a DoD infection rate amongst those in uniform as being just under the national infection rate of 0.2 percent. That’s roughly 1700 per million people in uniform compared to some 2300 infections per million in America overall.
During the week of April 20, 2020, 25 people within the DoD system have died to date. Two service members are among that number, and four military dependents. Civilian deaths in the DoD related to coronavirus included 12 people that week, with 7 deaths among DoD contractors reported.
These numbers were updated on April 27, 2020, the DoD has 6,568 total COVID-19 cases; recovery numbers as of April 27, 2020 include 1,258 military members, 287 dependents, 362 civilians and 137 contractors.
800 COVID-19 Positives Among USS Theodore Roosevelt Crew
The Navy completed a full round of COVID-19 testing for sailors who serve on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt; 800 sailors assigned that vessel have tested positive to date. As late as April 27, 2020, the crew of the Roosevelt is ashore in Guam, being housed at Naval Base Guam and in offbase hotels and other facilities. 88 sailors have recovered from the COVID-19 outbreak on board the Roosevelt.
What is critical about this story? According to some sources, of those 800+ sailors, as many as 300 were asymptomatic and circulating among the rest of the crew. The Navy reports more than four thousand sailors tested negative for COVID-19. 88 sailors on board the Roosevelt tested positive, but some who initially got negative test results back were later found to be infected.
That is an important factor to consider for people on the fence about wearing face masks and other PPE in public.
USNS Hospital Ship Departs New York
The Navy hospital ship Comfort has finished its mission in New York; many news outlets report criticism related to underuse of the ship; it was deployed to New York City in anticipation of a massive surge in hospital admissions but the hospital system there did not fill to capacity as anticipated.
It’s easy to speculate why that happened, but the words of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (paraphrased) do apply; the goal has always been to have more resources than needed and to be criticized for doing too much rather than too little.
Common Access Card Update Policies During COVID-19
Temporary military ID renewal policies have been established to help troops renew ID cards during the coronavirus lockdown. The policies are effective through Sept. 30, 2020 and permit updates and renewal from home rather than requiring a visit to a Pass & ID office, Customer Service, Base Security office, etc.
Under the temporary policy, common access cards set to expire on or after April 16, 2020 (the card must be within 30 days of expiration at renewal time) may update via the ID Card Office Online “to allow for continued use for logical access”.
These cards cannot be renewed online (see above) if they have been allowed to expire.
DoD Announces Defense Production Act Spending
The Department of Defense made public funding details for a $133 million Defense Production Act COVID-19 effort. Three civilian companies have been awarded contracts to increase N95 production in the United States, they are:
These companies were expected to produce some 30-million-plus N95 masks for first responders in the early months of the program.
Military Travel Ban Extension Beyond June?
More telling? The Department of Defense is NOT ruling out an extension of the ban beyond June 30. Such force protection measures fall under review every 15 days and are subject to change, but in spite of a perceived eagerness from the White House to reopen America for business, we find a much higher degree of caution being exercised by military planners.
There are options being weighed for an end to the travel ban if conditions warrant after the next 15-day review period. There may be a gradual phase-out of restrictions that include 14-day mandatory quarantine periods for those who must travel during the phase-out period, but these issues have not been presented as a definite plan.
But such developments should be taken as an indicator of how seriously Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force leadership are taking COVID-19 and the future of the containment effort.
Some Easing Of Shelter In Place Restrictions?
There have been, in spite of the seriousness of the need to flatten the coronavirus curve, some instances of relaxed restrictions. A good example comes in the form of the most recent update to the DoD travel ban; some exceptions are expected to be announced that are more lenient than the prior force protection measures.
At Fort Rucker, Alabama some pilots in training there who have been on lockdown may resume training; an Associated Press news report says more than 800 pilots went into shelter-in-place after three cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at the fort.
An Air Force Academy graduation ceremony was held as scheduled over the weekend of April 18, 2020, but with a “socially distanced” graduation parade said to be “scaled down” for the 1,000 Academy graduates in attendance.
The DoD fight against COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic continues; there have been many significant actions and developments, including updated force protection guidance for restricted workplace activities and performing mission-related duties while under shelter-in-place orders. That update came in the form of Force Health Protection Guidance Supplement 8.
Other Milestones And Missions During COVID-19
April 11, 2020 was an unfortunate milestone in the pandemic timeline; Wyoming became the 50th state to get a federal disaster declaration; it’s said that this is the first time in United States history that all 50 states have had such a declaration at the same time.
Another first in the DoD response; an innovation known as the Transport Isolation System was used as part of an aeromedical evacuation in Afghanistan; three U.S. contractors tested positive for the coronavirus and were flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany for further observation.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has functioned as a high-visibility partner for states like New York and Washington; it is involved in nearly 50 FEMA Mission Assignments involving roughly 15,000 personnel and more than two thousand deployments.
The Corps of Engineers has at the time of this writing assessed approximately 1,000 potential sites as potential Alternate Care Facilities.
Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) awarded a contract worth more than $400 million for decontamination systems that could potentially help medical professionals decontaminate and re-use N95 used respirators per system per day, enabling mask reuse up to 20 times.
On April 6, 2020, the commander of U.S. Forces Japan declared a public health emergency for U.S. military bases near Tokyo.
April 6, 2020 was also the day that news stories surfaced referencing TRADOC, also known as Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the temporary suspension of the “movement of soldiers to basic combat training because of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
A pause in Basic Training is a significant move; other branches of the military have responded differently where basic training requirements are concerned.
The Air Force, for example, on its official site for Joint Base Lackland-San Antonio (where Air Force Basic Training is held) states that boot camp will continue as it is deemed mission essential. That said, new recruits arriving to the base during the coronavirus epidemic are subject to restricted movement, and are kept separately from other troops assigned to the base such as those in technical training (the next step after graduating from Air Force boot camp).
There is also evidence that the military, while dealing with shelter-in-place orders, restricted movement, and other issues civilians must also endure, is responding to the crisis in ways many in the private sector are. That means pitching in, helping where they can, and staying as isolated as possible.
What are military members doing to help? The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, normally tasked with planning, deploying, tracking, and completing airlift missions around the world made headlines with its ninth scheduled delivery of critical medical supplies from overseas to the United States.
Some U.S. Special Forces unit members are involved in manufacturing personal protective ensemble (PPE) gear such as face masks, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is involved in a variety of efforts to combat and contain the spread of COVID-19 including site assesment operations for alternative treatment and testing locations.
How busy has the Army Corps of Engineers been in that effort? As of March 27, there were 114 site assessment requests submitted to the Corps; as of an April 3, 2020 DoD update, those numbers rose to 750.
What DoD Does In A National Crisis Like COVID-19
What does the Department of Defense do about a crisis such as the coronavirus outbreak? Headlines abound, including “Pentagon races to counter coronavirus threat on military forces.”
And then there’s the quite juicy, “Pentagon denies asking combatant commanders to give advance notice before responding to coronavirus concerns.”
So what exactly does the government DO in situations like a coronavirus epidemic?
One of the most significant developments occurred March 27, 2020 when the President of the United States issued an Executive Order calling up members of the Ready Reserve and “certain members of the Individual Ready Reserve to active duty.
This was done by invoking the National Emergencies Act, as well as Proclamation 9994 of March 13, 2020, Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak, which was issued to declare a national emergency.
According to the text of the executive order, Pentagon officials are reviewing the number of National Guard, Reservists, and members of the Individual Ready Reserve troops to bring into active service.
According to some sources, these activations will focus on troops and units with medical capabilities that may be experiencing a critical shortage in virus-affected areas such as New York, California, Washington State, Illinois, Louisiana, and elsewhere.
The executive order specifically authorizes the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, and other service Secretaries (including the Coast Guard) to call members of the IRR, and Ready Reserve to active duty for a period of time, “not to exceed 24 consecutive months”.
There is also a staffing limit; the number is restricted to “such units, and individual members of the Ready Reserve under the jurisdiction of the Secretary concerned, not to exceed 1,000,000 members on active duty at any one time”.
Remember, the total number of call-ups and activations may depend greatly on mission requirements in the affected areas but U.S. Army North is reported to have activated some 800 Guard and Reserve troops alone.
There are many steps that may be taken and it’s important to remember that in the military chain of command, while you may see vague and confusing statements from those in the highest corridors of power, by the time a local commander has issued statements or orders on the issue? There is likely a firm policy at the unit level pending or already in effect that determines how local troops and families will carry on during such a crisis.
But there are complicating factors. Confusion and lack of planning over the official messaging re: coronavirus issues had the Oval Office contradicting subject matter experts often in the same televised briefing.
That problem seems to have led Defense Secretary Mark Esper to require combatant commanders not to make unilateral decisions about how to protect their troops WITHOUT giving advanced notice to the Pentagon. At least according to a New York Times report. And that report is not without controversy.
Whether or not you agree with the notion of such a requirement or whether you think it’s unnecessary red tape that could seriously interfere with a local command’s ability to safeguard troops and families, there’s the larger issue of whether the story is being reported correctly–the DoD accuses the NY Times of misrepresenting the terms and conditions associated with the requirement.
In a crisis that has the 24-hour news cycle spinning as hard as possible, it’s easy to succumb to hyperbole. So what exactly IS the Defense Department ready to do in such circumstances? What follows is simply a list of facts and their sources with no speculation.
The opinions of the pundits mean very little in terms of dealing with the human and financial cost of such a global problem. Hard facts, which can be hard to come by in this day and age without spin, tend to speak for themselves in times like these.
What The Department Of Defense Is Doing
The Department of Defense has issued both overseas and domestic travel guidance for all military members and their families.
Overseas travel has been suspended for at least 60 days according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who is quoted in a press release published at Defense.gov. The sixty day stop movement order applies to all personnel (military and civilian) and affects roughly 90 thousand troops.
According to the press release, this order builds on other restricted-movement steps taken to help contain coronavirus outbreaks. It affects all aspects of foreign travel, permanent change of station moves, TDY travel, military exercises, and even deployments.
Exceptions to the stop movement order for overseas troops may be possible depending on circumstances:
- Travel by patients and medical providers for medical treatment;
- Scheduled deployments / redeployments of U.S. navy vessels and embarked units, (must be in-transit for 14 days);
- Those who “have already initiated travel”;
- Those traveling when TDY ends (while the order is in effect) are “authorized to return to their home station”.
Domestically, Federal News Network reports that roughly “11,000 soldiers and 18,000 airmen have their orders on hold” following a prior stop movement order for all domestic travel. Army officials say PCS moves have not been cancelled outright, but have been delayed instead.
Who does the travel restriction affect? All PCS and TDY travel is affected by the restriction from March 16, 2020 to May 11, 2020 at the time of this writing. The restriction is subject to revision depending on circumstances and mission requirements. At the time of this writing the travel ban includes:
- All DoD service members
- All DoD civilians
- All family members for both categories above
Exceptions may be possible in certain cases:
- Mission essential travel
- Travel is required for humanitarian reasons
- Travel is “warranted due to extreme hardship”
- Travel for medical treatment is permitted
Current DoD guidance on the travel ban includes a reminder that anyone who started travel prior to the restriction may proceed to their final destination. According to the DoD, “Individuals whose TDY ends within stop movement period may return home.”
Those who were scheduled to go on leave can only take leave within the local area according to the most current guidance at the time of this writing.
The Defense Secretary has issued a series of Force Protection Supplements designed to enhance travel safety when such travel is unavoidable.
Additional measures include pre-travel and post-travel “screening and reception procedures” and protective steps taken to protect those “transitioning to military and DoD contracted aircraft for from or to CDC Level 3 or Level 2 designated areas”.
At press time, DoD literature indicates that for DoD personnel returning to the United States from an overseas location, “There is no designated quarantine location for returning personnel.” This is relevant to those affected by force protection and screening measures.
According to the government, military personnel and families who have recently traveled through a CDC Health Advisory Level 2 or Level 3 area are directed to self-quarantine for 14 days. There is no centralized quarantine location indicated at press time.
The Stop Movement Order
March 13, 2020 was the day DoD placed a Stop Movement order on all service members, civilians, and families “traveling to, from or through Level 3 locations (as designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) will stop movement for the next 60 days”. Furthermore, a temporary ban on “concurrent travel” to affected areas is also in place.
This is a move that prevents family members from traveling with the military member to an overseas base.
This is a move that prevents family members from traveling with the military member to an overseas base.
This is a temporary change and not necessarily a cancellation of an accompanied overseas tour where the military member brings the family for the assignment.
During the Stop Movement order, family member travel “will be deferred for 60 days. As stated in the travel restriction guidance, exceptions may be granted for compelling cases where the travel is: (1) determined to be mission essential; (2) necessary for humanitarian reasons; or (3) warranted due to extreme hardship,” according to DoD literature.
Other Measures DoD Has Taken To Manage The Coronavirus Outbreak
It must be made clear that active duty United States military troops are constitutionally prevented from enforcing police actions domestically, and that what we are discussing here is how the DoD manages problems like the coronavirus as an agency.
Its internal policies and workforce protection measures are what we are discussing here, NOT the mobilization of troops at home or abroad to enforce quarantine laws or other measures.
To the best of our knowledge no such mobilizations are planned, and none are ongoing. This article focuses on how troops, civilian employees of the Defense Department, and family members are affected and under what measures.
The United States Navy has sent hospital ships to hardest-hit areas such as New York and California; USNS Comfort was sent to New York, and USNS Mercy sailed to California to help provide additional facilities for hospital systems in these areas expected to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 issues as these states approach their regional peak virus impact times.
National Guard units have been activated by state governors, and DoD facilities are being used to research virus treatment and vaccine possibilities.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with state governors and city officials in hot zones such as New York City to set up alternate treatment and/or testing facilities and to repurpose ares like New York City’s Javits Center as alternatives to existing hospital options.
DoD Remote Work Policies
DoD adjusted its workplace policies to contend with the outbreak. A DoD Memorandum loosened work-from-home rules for those already authorized to perform telework (as the memorandum describes it).
The rule changes include allowing those already permitted to work from home to do so now “even if they’re also taking care of a sick child or relative in their home.”
Is that confusing? The motivation for the policy may not be clear to those not affected by it, but essentially the original rule was a measure created to prevent situations where an employee worked from home and wanted to do so as “a substitute for dependent care.” Under the looser guidelines, that concern is temporarily ignored.
That DoD memorandum also includes instructions that military exercises should be modified or “re-scoped” when the outbreak situation locally reaches the point where community transmission becomes an issue (as opposed to transmission caused by travel to an affected country).
As mentioned above, the Defense Department previously restricted all non-essential travel in certain parts of the world; non-essential travel basically means leave, certain TDYs, and even some professional military education requirements depending on the severity of travel restrictions.
The 60-day stop movement order for all overseas troops overrules the restrictions listed below which were initiated as an early measure to stop the spread of COVID-19 / coronavirus cases. Once the 60-day stop move order is lifted, it is entirely possible that the rules listed below for non-essential travel may resume unless DoD planners decide otherwise.
Prior to the 60-day travel ban, access to military bases overseas was restricted. Ships at sea that have been to the Pacific were ordered to remain at sea for two weeks, a measure described as a type of self-quarantine. Similar rules have been put into place for troops who have recently been to China according to some sources.
In Korea, troops were restricted from non-essential travel to off-post activities in public including movie theater attendance and social dining. Non-essential travel to South Korea has also been restricted.
In Italy, Army bases closed their public schools and child care centers, and Central Command has cancelled all “leave and liberty travel” within the Central Command theater of operations.
Leisure travel and ordinary activities were not the only things affected; military exercises have been cancelled in South Korea, and U.S. European Command’s General Tod Wolters informed the Senate that U.S. forces in Germany could be affected by an increase in coronavirus cases, forcing a reduction or complete halt to troop movement.
The Pentagon may well choose a phased-out end to the travel ban and previous restricted movement orders; much depends on what happens with the coronavirus in terms of possible re-infection rates and other variables.
What The DoD is Telling Employers To Do
Military readiness is a term heard again and again by new recruits and trainees. The coronavirus outbreak is definitely a test of individual and organizational readiness. In times of crisis and conflict, the “fog of war” is a variable that good troops and commanders have a healthy respect for.
Organization and planning are key to overcoming that variable, and the Department of Defense has issued guidelines via the Office of Personnel Management.
These guidelines were issued to civilians across the government, but the same organizing principles are used by military units, too. During the coronavirus problem, the federal government has directed its agencies and staff to do the following:
- Review “continuity of operation plans” to insure essential functions continue to operate in spite of the outbreak
- Update employees contact information
- Update telework agreements
- Communicate best health practices
- Create or maintain authorized supply chain/procurement procedures for health and safety equipment
Supervisors are also given added flexibility to modify scheduling, authorize remote work or alternative shifts, etc. Troops are advised to get clarification at the unit level for policies that may affect their ability to travel, go on leave, permissive TDY for house hunting, etc.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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