How Is COVID-19 Affecting US Troops Overseas?

By Ellen Kershner on May 22 2020 in Society

Close quarters on Naval ships have led to some sailors contracting COVID-19. Photo by Michael Afonso on Unsplash
Close quarters on Naval ships have led to some sailors contracting COVID-19. Photo by Michael Afonso on Unsplash
  • As of early April, over 1,200 military personnel and family members had been infected with COVID-19.
  • It had to dock in Guam, and reportedly had around 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases on board.
  • The Department of Defense has restricted domestic and overseas travel for military troops and their families.
  • Saudi Arabia and Yemen initially agreed to the ceasefire

As COVID-19 first began its global spread, one of the first members of the military to be infected was a United States service member in South Korea, back in March. Around that time, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley stated that they had medical capabilities, housing, and other capabilities, and would do their part to fight the pandemic’s spread.

After the service member was diagnosed, the U.S. Military decided to postpone its annual joint exercises there. By late March, more military exercises had been canceled. Other precautionary measures included limiting the size of group gatherings to twenty, closing on-base daycares and schools, canceling events and programs, and restricting non-essential off base access. Similar precautions were soon underway in Italy, parts of Europe, Africa, and other parts of the world.

Achieving a Balance

Remaining prepared for missions while preventing the virus’s spread and supporting civil authorities is a big order, and the United States military is trying to strike the right balance. Like other arms of the federal government, the military has been criticized for its response. As of early April, over 1,200 military personnel and family members had been infected with COVID-19.

Since there is so much close contact on ships, the Navy was hard hit and ended up canceling a mission of the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in the Asia-Pacific region. It had to dock in Guam and reportedly had around 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases on board.

Travel and Other Restrictions

The pandemic has resulted in domestic and overseas travel being restricted for US troops. Photo by Jessica Radanavong on Unsplash 

The Department of Defense has restricted domestic and overseas travel for military troops and their families. Close to 10,000 personnel in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia were under restrictions as the Pentagon worked to preserve military readiness while instituting health and safety precautions. Some of the men and women have been placed in quarantine, isolation, or regulated to other forms of restricted movement.

Every time a U.S. soldier, sailor, or other service member is diagnosed with COVID-19, the military will isolate that person, along with others who have been in contact with them. Personnel were also not permitted to travel from or through high-risk countries; domestic U.S. travel was also stopped. At the Pentagon, restrictions included barring individuals who had traveled out of the country within the previous two weeks.

In the Middle East

Iraq is dealing with a severe COVID-19 outbreak and numerous incursions. Photo by Levi Clancy on Unsplash

Though the United Nations called for ceasefires in all conflicts across the globe, and some nations did respond in kind. Saudi Arabia and Yemen initially agreed to the ceasefire, but this did not last long. There have been flare-ups in Yemen, and a Saudi-led coalition that struck Huthi targets. In Libya, there has been violent fighting in Tripoli; the International Crisis Group reported that the ceasefire was not being followed.

Iraq was hard hit by the virus, but there are still battles being waged here. There are American military personnel here, grouped in a few locations. Patriot air defense missiles have been deployed, which could lead to a new escalation of fighting. In Iran, which has also been decimated by COVID-19, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) still poses a threat. Tehran has ejected the remaining U.S. forces from Iraq and has used proxy militia groups to target U.S. forces there.

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