By Greg Barnes
Frida Guerrero Huber said her husband, a soldier stationed at Fort Bragg, was expecting to return to their California home in April before he got shipped overseas on a deployment.
They had planned to spend three weeks together, she said, but it appears that is no longer possible.
Blame the coronavirus.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that all U.S. military service members, Department of Defense civilian workers and their families assigned to DoD installations are restricted from domestic travel.
The DoD also said that effective today through May 11 all U.S. military service members can take their leave only locally in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The DoD said the travel restrictions include a ban on permanent change of station and temporary duty.
The newest restrictions do not just demonstrate how quickly the coronavirus is disrupting people’s lives, they demonstrate how fast the DoD is responding in an effort to keep the virus from spreading onto military installations and into surrounding communities.
Around noon Friday, commanders at Fort Bragg held a town hall teleconference. At that time, the commanders said there was no ban on local travel. Hours later, the DoD issued a news release announcing the restrictions on domestic travel for all military members and DoD civilians.
“Similar to other travel guidance regarding COVID-19, travel exceptions may be granted for compelling cases where the travel is mission-essential, for humanitarian reasons, or warranted due to extreme hardship,” the DoD said in its news release. “The Department will continue to issue additional guidance with regard to the COVID-19 as conditions warrant. Our goal is to remain ahead of the virus spread so our military force remains effective and ready.”
At the town hall meeting, Lt. Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg’s commanding general, said there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Army post in Fayetteville.
Hours later, The Fayetteville Observer reported that a Harnett County resident who received treatment at Fayetteville’s Cape Fear Valley Medical Center had tested presumptively positive for the virus.
Harnett County abuts Fort Bragg. The person who tested positive returned home and is in isolation, the newspaper reported. Officials are now trying to determine who the person may have come into contact with before being treated. It is unknown whether the person has connections with Fort Bragg.
During the town hall, which was viewed by more than 2,400 people, the Fort Bragg commanders fielded dozens of questions from soldiers, their family members and others.
Among the highlights:
- Kurilla said all military personnel returning to Fort Bragg from any other country will automatically face a 14-day quarantine, either at their home or in their barracks. That directive, from the Department of Defense and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a level 2 threat warning Thursday for the entire world.
- Quarantine will be used for anyone who is re-entering the country but is not having symptoms of the virus.
- Those who display symptoms, or are known to have the coronavirus, will be put in isolation, ideally in a room by themselves.
- Ceremonies will not be held for soldiers returning home.
- Col. John Melton, commander of Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center, said the coronavirus is expected to have only mild effects on young, healthy soldiers and their family members. Melton said a primary goal for Fort Bragg is to keep the virus from spreading into surrounding communities.
“By slowing the spread of the coronavirus infection we spread out the need for medical intervention and hospitalization over weeks instead of days,” Melton said. “Bottom line is don’t be complacent just because you are young and healthy. Only as a community can we slow the spread of the virus so that your hospital can care for, and together we can protect, the most vulnerable members of our community.”
- There has been no significant spread of the coronavirus in Afghanistan, where many American soldiers are stationed.
- Fort Bragg is operating under the guidelines of no public events where more than 100 people would gather. Among events that have been canceled is the popular All-American Marathon, which had been scheduled for the end of the month.
- Gyms, the PX and other gathering places remain open, but people are urged not to go anywhere if they are sick.
- Fort Bragg is operating under an Alpha threat alert, which is a step above normal. The Alpha designation means military officials are preparing because they believe the virus is coming. The threat level could increase to Bravo if the virus spreads from person to person in counties surrounding Fort Bragg, and to Charlie, the highest level, if the virus spreads onto the post.