MILITARY MATTERS: Major General discusses COVID-19 response on Fort Benning

Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 10:14 AM EDT
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FORT BENNING, Ga. (WTVM) - With the spike in COVID-19 cases in Georgia, Fort Benning is remaining vigilant to keep soldiers and their family members healthy, including regular testing. In part 2 of my conversation with the new commanding general, he talks about how the Army installation’s proactive measures.

Practicing what he preaches, Fort Benning’s new Commanding General spent his first two weeks on the Army installation - in quarantine, a requirement and precaution because of the coronavirus.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence Commanding General said, “Being locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic is painful. I fully understand it.”

Major General Patrick Donahoe knows well, because at his last military job in South Korea, he did not leave the Army post there from February 6th through July 6th, a total of 4 months.

“Absolutely, we can pull some of the techniques we were using in the South Korea and employ them here, but I must say Fort Benning has been at the forefront of our Army’s response to COVID,” Major General Patrick Donahoe said.

And that response is a special pandemic protocol when new soldiers fly into the Atlanta airport. They’re greeted by someone from Fort Benning, who puts them on an Army bus headed straight to post.

“You’re not going to interact with anybody on the way down. You’re not going to have any possibility of picking it (COVID) up...or if you have it, giving it to somebody,” Major General Donahoe described. “You’re going to spend 14 days in a reception battalion. We’re going to test you twice while you’re there.”)

Back in May, a large group went into an isolation facility - 142 soldiers and trainees tested positive for the coronavirus out of 640 soldiers tested on Fort Benning over the course of two days.

“And when we find someone who’s COVID positive, we are quickly grabbing that soldier, isolating them from others,” Major General Donahoe said. “If you’re around that new soldier that tested positive, you’re going to go into quarantine and then we’re going to monitor you for 14 days.”

The new commanding general says COVID-19 makes everything more challenging, but everyone plays a role in keeping the force healthy.

“It’s got to be the personal discipline, self-sacrifice to keep yourself COVID-free,” he said.

When he assumed command on Fort Benning, Major General Donahoe signed a new order, expanding a little what General (Gary) Brito put into place with guidelines for not only soldiers, but also their families and civilian workers on post, including no more eating inside restaurants, for now.

“We want you to mask when you can’t socially distance. We require you to,” Major General Donahoe said. “We’re telling soldiers, family members, contractors...if you’re a member of a downtown gym, you can’t go inside and work out in that gym. You can work out outside. You can eat in restaurants that have outdoor seating.”

He says the top priority at Fort Benning right now is stopping the spread of the virus, so training can continue. That includes strict guidelines for movement onto the Army installation, plus “For every soldier leaving Fort Benning that’s going overseas, they will all be tested here.”

Major General Donahoe added, “We’re an Army that’s also designed to fight nuclear, biological, chemical threats too. This is kind of a biological threat.”

And Major General Donahoe knows people get stir crazy, but warns that decisions need to be based on the disease, saying ”COVID is not tired. We cannot be either.”

Fort Benning is also providing clean bed space, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, linens and more, in the wake of the pandemic.

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