MILITARY MATTERS: Changes at Ft. Benning in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Updated: Apr. 8, 2020 at 10:29 PM EDT
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FORT BENNING, Ga. (WTVM) - As the coronavirus spreads across America, the military is taking action to keep soldiers healthy.

A lot of questions were answered at a Fort Benning town hall Tuesday evening on various issues like troop travel, masks, Army graduations, and plans for sick soldiers.

"Limit your movement, conduct your central activities and stay home,” Fort Benning Commanding General Major General Gary Brito said as a message for military veterans and civilians.

In an hour-long Facebook town hall, leaders on Fort Benning said it’s not business as usual, because of the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic. Every soldier has been issued hand sanitizer. There are more hand-washing stations in the Army installation’s training areas. Food for troops has changed too.

"We’re no longer eating in our dining facilities. We’re all taking carry out, utilizing MREs,” 194th Armor Training Brigade Commander Col. Dawson Plummer said.

The colonel saidall military, including officers, are being screened every day for medical issues like at reception stations.

“Having temperature taken, looking at the source of where they come from, if their shipping origin is a hot spot for the virus, and who they come in contact with in their travels,” Dawson added in the special town hall.

“If there’s any indicator or hunch that he or she may be sick or ill or have the virus, they’re not going to join their respective formation and they’ll be put in some level of quarantine,” Brito said.

Just announced this week, there will be no future soldiers or recruits allowed to transport onto any Army installation for at least two weeks. Fort Benning’s commanding general emphasized there is not a pause for training on post.

"The soldiers that we have, that are here now, they’ll continue to train and be trained, whether it’s week two or week 22,” Brito said.

"The Army does not shut down, soldiers never quit, Airborne and Ranger school continues,” 198th Infantry Brigade Commander Col. Dave Voorhies said.

Soldiers who don’t normally get to make calls during the first 10 weeks of training will have access to their cell phones on any weekend during this challenging time, according to Voorhies. He and the panel also talked about masks for soldiers and when or if they cannot practice social distancing.

“We’re working with all the units to ensure we have something effective that covers your face and nose, protects you from the virus spread," Brito told the audience.

The commanding general also said they’re modifying training to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, spreading out formations, keeping bunks far enough apart, cleaning Fort Benning facilities, and not allowing family members to come onto Fort Benning for big events for now.

"And looking forward to the day that we can open up the gates again for family days and graduations as well,” Brito said.

“To be able to mitigate not seeing your soldier, we live stream on Facebook,” Voorhies added.

They also reminded the public the Department of Defense will no longer release the names of active duty soldiers who test positive for COVID-19.

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