Hearing news of people exposed to COVID-19, a.k.a. novel Coronavirus, being quarantined at military bases in the United States brings back memories of soldiers returning from Africa who were quarantined at Joint Base Lewis-McChord a few years ago. I lived there at the time and remember feeling tinges of concern. Overall though, I was sure all the necessary precautions were taken and that those that lived on the base would be safe.
I recently visited my son at Lackland Air Force Base where some of the people exposed to COVID-19 are quarantined. He said they could see the people in Hazmat suits visiting and how eerie it was. Overall he wasn’t concerned. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, novel Coronavirus data so far suggests the illness is mild, although the elderly and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions are at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19.
Another concern is with regard to our friends stationed in South Korea, particularly in Daegu where Coronavirus is widespread. Their posts on Facebook attempt to be positive, but you can read between the lines and see they are worried. All the schools are closed, and the children are doing all their assignments virtually. No one is quarantined on the base, but soldiers aren’t allowed to go to any businesses off the base and family members are asked to avoid leaving as well. Even all large gatherings such as church services are canceled. The local government off the base has banned large groups and asked that the populace remain home. I can imagine that it is challenging for families stationed there, especially not knowing whether they can travel or not.
In a recent Department of Defense (DoD) news briefing, Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper said, “For the past six weeks, defense leaders have been meeting to plan for any possible scenario with the virus that first surfaced in China. “We’ve issued a variety of [memoranda] and directives advising the force on how to deal with Coronavirus.”
One thing that is important to know is that the military already has plans in place to combat a pandemic or infectious disease outbreak. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reiterated this at the press briefing and stated that the military is executing those plans. The DoD is monitoring what is going on in the field and reacting accordingly. For example, an exercise in South Korea has been postponed due to the large outbreak in that area while Exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand is continuing.
One thing a lot of people don’t realize is the military has research laboratories. The mission statement of the Military Infectious Diseases Research Program (MIDRP) is to protect the U.S. military against naturally occurring infectious diseases via the development of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic assays and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved vector control protection systems (to prevent transmission of infections by insects, ticks, etc.). According to Milley the labs are working “feverishly” to try to come up with a vaccine.
Esper recently conducted a detailed meeting with DoD civilian and military leadership, including all the service secretaries, the COCOM commanders, to ensure the entire department is equipped for all scenarios: short and long-term, domestic and international. “Commanders of individually affected geographic commands have all the authority they need, and we’ll provide specific guidance to their troops as the situation continues to evolve. Meanwhile, NORTHCOM remains the global integrator for all DoD efforts and entities. My number one priority remains to protect our forces and their families; second, to safeguard our mission capabilities; and, third, to support the interagency whole-of-government approach. We will continue to take all necessary precautions to ensure that our people are safe and able to continue their very important mission,” said Esper.
We will see how the situation pans out in the next few weeks, but I feel the Department of Defense has a good handle on the situation especially for service members stationed overseas.
Marguerite Cleveland is a freelance writer who specializes in human interest and travel stories. She is a military brat, a veteran and now a military spouse. Her military experience is vast as the daughter of a Navy man who served as an enlisted sailor and then Naval Officer. She served as an enlisted soldier in the reserves and on active duty, then as an Army Officer. She currently serves as a military spouse. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. Visit her website www.PeggyWhereShouldIGo.com