COVID-19 and The Military: What’s Happening?

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Melanie Kibler

Everyday we hear news about what is happening with the Coronavirus pandemic.  Sometimes it is hopeful, for example people coming together on Zoom and volunteers and medical professionals working to keep people safe in any way they can.  Other times it is depressing, for example, quarantine being extended and the number of cases rising. 

However, we don’t really hear about what the various military branches are doing in response to this global pandemic.  They can’t just stop protecting our country, so they are still deployed and working at their respective bases.

 

Navy and Marines

Seaman Esther Tyrrell has been involved in the Navy in one way or another since she was very young.  It started out with joining the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps during middle school.  She then officially enlisted in the Navy last year around May.  

Before this pandemic part of Tyrrell’s job was to “wake up at 3am, make sure that everything was fine and well, and go to our post.”  After COVID-19, this part of her job has remained the same, but it feels that everything is different, due to the distance and wearing masks. 

She is also the Master At Arms on the ship and this means that she comes into contact with people fairly regularly.  “Whenever we have a chance to go into contact with a human being we have to make sure we’re wearing gloves and make sure that we’re always wearing a face mask.  Sometimes it doesn’t really help though because it gets as high as 130℉ out here, so it’s hard to wear the stuff.”

However, while their jobs have not necessarily changed, the emotions on the ship certainly have. “A lot of the stuff for the health and morale has stopped.  For example, we used to have bingo night and karaoke night over here, but all of that has stopped,” explains  Tyrell.  She also said that there wasn’t really fear on the ship, but rather higher levels of caution.  

For example, their medical team has been booked, they have three different boxes of gloves at each station, and two large bottles of hand sanitizers. She believes that the Navy might be a bit overly cautious, but also that they have been very diligent in making sure that everyone has the equipment they need.

 

Air Force

Former Colonel Gregory H. Johnson has faced many challenges during his time in the Airforce.  He flew a total of 61 combat missions in support of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Southern Watch.  One time when he was flying in Saudi Arabia his plane was locked into being fired at.  After a series of intense maneuvers he managed to get away and bring the plane home, though not without some wear and tear on the vehicle.  However, through all the challenges he faced he never imagined that something like the COVID-19 pandemic would ever happen.

He has been keeping in touch with his fellow pilots, who are overseas, during all of this craziness and feels strongly for what they are going through.  “They are in a status called Mission Essential Personnel Only.  The mission has to keep going on and the Air Force defends our nation through space and air.” Johnson explains.  

The people who are mission essential have been using gloves and masks so they can stay safe during this scary time.  There are some people who are not mission essential and they have been kept quarantined.

Johnson also said, “I have a lot of friends who are overseas, they’re all pilots.  They got stuck, they’re not allowed to enter the country, at least as of last week, unless the Secretary of the Air Force approved it.  If they did come back they immediately had to go into a 14 day quarantine at their home.  So, those who were stranded overseas, the Secretary of the Air Force has to approve each deployment of Air Force officers and I assume it’s the same for enlisted groups.”

Many pilots are separated from their families for a lot longer than they originally anticipated and it is causing them a lot of heartache, even though they understand it’s for the greater good.  The only consolation is knowing that their families are safe at home in their own quarantines.

However, in some lighter news according to Johnson the military is able to do a lot more than the civilian world can to fight the pandemic.  “Due to the chain of command they can say ‘alright this is how it’s going to be.’ Well before any of the states were making recommendations, which is hard to make many people follow, in the military they require face masks for example.  They can execute things that civilian leaders aren’t able to, because of the military chain of command.”

 

Army

The Army National Guard’s motto is Always Ready, Always There, and this has been true since the moment of their foundation.  They have helped in disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Irma, the Joplin, MO tornado, the Haiti Earthquake and many more.  And COVID-19 is not the first pandemic that they have helped out with either, but it might be the largest scale that they have worked.

All of the country soldiers are doing everything they can to help those affected by this pandemic.  In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula the National Guard is doing everything in their power to help the first responders who are on the front lines.  Mainly they drop off supplies that people can’t readily access.  

“We were making trips to Mackinac, Newbury, and multiple trips to Marquette, which is an hour up and back, so with the National Guard dropping the supplies off, it’s huge,” said Sgt. Sheila Peters with the Alger County Sheriff’s Department. “It makes it so much easier. We’re so very thankful.”

It’s not just the Sheriff’s Department that is grateful however, it’s also those who are receiving the supplies they otherwise would not be able to get.  

“I think it’s important because we’re always here. We’re always ready to answer the call and assist the first responders and local volunteers,” said Sgt. Adam Szabo. “We’re there to help with these efforts. They’re really appreciative that we’re there to help them out when they’re too busy with handling other tasks throughout the day.”

It’s not just Michigan where this is happening either, but rather all over the country.  The National Guard is making sure that people get supplies, get fed, and know that someone is there looking out for the civilians during this trying time.

 

Coast Guard

Chief Bill Pullins has been a recruiter for a long time and is very enthusiastic about his job.  He enjoys talking to potential recruits and visiting schools to talk to young kids about what it means to be in the Coast Guard.  Now however, he has to prepare Boot Camp ready people in a new way and can’t go try to recruit new members.

“We are still recruiting, the main difference is actually at Basic Training.  We’re only shipping 48 people as opposed to 110 at a time, to observe the social distancing rule.    When you’re on your bus ride to Basic Training it’s only 12 people on a bus, as opposed to 55, so everyone can sit in their own row.” Explains Pullins.

That’s not the only change that is happening at Basic Training though.  At the actual training grounds the number of people in a squad has severely decreased by almost 4x the amount.  This allows every other bed to be taken, so that people can keep to the six feet rule.  

Also, there is now only one person allowed in the showers at a time, while before they took group showers.  There is now a fourteen day quarantine period, before basic training officially starts, where recruits are just doing classroom activities six feet apart.  The quarantine period also decreases the training time by two weeks, so it ends up being five weeks rather than seven and a half. 

Pullins also explained how recruiting has been different because of the pandemic.  “As far as recruiting goes, we’re still recruiting, we just can’t go out to schools because they’re all closed.  We can’t go out to any outreach events because there’s no festivals and no fairs going on right now.  All those things that you go to find people, you can’t go anymore, so you’re kind of just answering the phone calls or reaching out to people you’ve already talked to in the past.”

This is very hard for him, because he really enjoys getting out there and inspiring the younger generations to think about joining the Coast Guard.  “It’s been kind of boring, just sitting in the office all day” Pullins says. “You can’t expose [the Coast Guard] to anybody new because you can’t go out and talk to anybody.”

 

In the End

No matter what branch, the military is continuing their missions and doing what they do best: protecting our people, our nation, and bringing hope to those who may not have it during this hard time.

Pic credit: https://www.amazon.com/Military-Branches-Poster-Marines-MILITARY3/dp/B00I5SAT4G