On Wednesday, Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of U.S. troops in South Korea, declared a public health emergency on his bases, which gives him wide-ranging authority to help combat the spread of the coronavirus among his forces.
General Abrams is one of the first U.S. commanders to issue such an order. In North Carolina, Maj. Gen. Julian D. Alford, the Marine officer in charge of Camp Lejeune, circulated a draft order that would also declare a public health emergency if authorized.
“Any person who refuses to obey or otherwise violates an order during this declared public health emergency may be detained,” says one section of the draft, which was obtained by The New York Times.
For the military, the challenge now is striking a balance between readiness and health, but “preserving the force” is quickly taking priority.
The mantra of today’s American military, but particularly of Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is readiness. The phrase “preserving the force” is military parlance for keeping a military that is fit, well-rehearsed and ready to deploy. But that means training and rehearsals, such as fighter pilots practicing how to refuel at 25,000 feet and Marines dragging each other through the dirt.
Those run counter to the social distancing that medical professionals say is required to beat the novel coronavirus.
As part of the new restrictions, the Army chief of staff, Gen. James C. McConville, said that he was putting a select group of service members, the Army’s contingency response forces, into the highest state of isolation — HPCON Delta. These troops are on call to rapidly deploy in emergencies. Under HPCON Delta, they now are expected to remain at home for extended periods of time, the Army said, and may even be quarantined.