“We Can’t Telecommunicate to Combat”
On 30 April, US Army Secretary Ryan D McCarthy briefed media that a proposed risk mitigation framework outlining a safe return to collective training is in the process of being finalised.
“As we balance global operations and combating COVID-19 on the home front, the Army continues to need a manned, ready force,” he stated. “We will continue to take the necessary precautions to protect the force, and we will enable commanders [with] the flexibility to make conditions-based decisions.”
Thousands of new recruits have moved through initial military training sites in the past few months, he said, while at the same time the Army has been protecting them against the virus. Once recruits arrive, they are placed in groups and screened and tested for the virus, as controlled monitoring and tactical dispersion measures continue during their cycle.
“We can’t telecommunicate to combat,” said Gen James C McConville, Army Chief of Staff. “Our troops need to be ready to go. And what we need to do as leaders is put the appropriate risk measures in place […] We are creating the safety bubbles that will protect the force while they conduct training,” he stated, adding over 800 recruits were shipped to training sites last week.
The Army is seeking to replicate similar measures for home-station training and rotations at combat training centres. Gen Michael Garrett, commander of Army Forces Command, said earlier in the week that the newly-activated 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade is slated to be the first unit to train again at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA, in June. On 29 April Gen McConville visited the centre to see at first hand how prepared it is to receive units. “Getting back to collective training is crucial,” he stated, “but we need to make sure we have the right measures in place first.”
Realistically, though, training opportunities may vary, depending on the threat of the virus at a specific location. “It’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution […] We’re looking at the long game. We’re not waiting for COVID-19 to go away,” McConville observed.
Future Army officers will also need to prepare for their first duty assignment. Graduating cadets at the US Military Academy, for instance, are set to return to West Point, NY, to complete medical and administrative tasks needed for them to commission. The cadets left the academy’s grounds on 6 March for spring break and have attended remote classes ever since. “We have to bring the cadets back to start the process to get them to their initial duty assignment,” McCarthy commented. “There are tasks they have to perform at the academy.”
The cadets are scheduled to arrive at nearby Camp Buckner, where they will be screened and tested for the virus. Afterward, they will return to their quarters for quarantine. “While they’re at West Point, they will be [separated] the entire time,” stated the Academy’s Superintendent. Lt Gen Darryl Williams. “They will come back in five cohorts, [and] no cohort will intermingle while they are there for those 14 days. They’ll eat and live separately.”
While at the academy, cadets will be able to complete physicals necessary for their branches, clearance requirements and collect any of their personal items. President Trump is expected to speak at their graduation ceremony on 13 June, which will be held using safety measures such as physical distancing. “We’ll do it safely,” Williams said. “We’re going to take care of them.“