FORT MEADE, Md.
To help slow the spread of coronavirus, the Army will halt the movement of new recruits to basic combat training for at least two weeks, service leaders said Monday. New recruits may also be eligible to receive up to $6,000 of delayed shipping incentive pay added to any existing bonuses, depending on the length of delay.
About 220 recruits scheduled to ship from April 6-20 will be rescheduled. However, basic training that has already begun and advanced individual training will continue in a limited capacity to maintain readiness, said Gen. Paul Funk II, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command commander.
"We are focusing on the health and safety of our force right now,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, U.S. Army Recruiting Command commander. “And this will help us ensure our training bases are fully prepared to receive our new recruits in the safest way possible."
Recruits who have experienced extreme hardship and had their basic training dates rescheduled due to living in a COVID-19 red zone may be approved for the new Future Soldier to Active Duty program. Through the program, new Soldiers can receive $1,600, or the base pay of an E-1 private during the delay.
By April 20 the Army will have delayed the shipment of a total of about 4,000 active-duty and Army Reserve recruits since March 16, Muth estimates. Until Monday, the Army had shipped about 1,700 recruits to BCT while delaying the transportation of troops in COVID-19 red zones.
The decision to stop the transportation of trainees to BCT stems from last month’s Defense Department order to minimize domestic travel and contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Muth said recruiters will continue to maintain regular virtual and phone contact with new Soldiers awaiting travel to the Army’s training bases: Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
"This pause is only for our current future Soldiers who had already signed a contract with us," Muth said. "Our recruiters will still be out there in the digital space working with applicants who are interested in serving … when the situation stabilizes."
Smaller classes, social distancing and increased health screenings are among the significant changes at the training bases amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
About 100 Soldiers at the training installations have tested positive for coronavirus and 12 have fully recovered, Funk said. Each installation has taken measures to practice social distancing during physical training sessions and in dormitory housing, said public affairs officers at the installations.
“Ensuring the safety of all of our Soldiers, family members and civilian personnel is always our No. 1 priority,” said Funk, adding that the service will reassess the environment at the end of the two-week delay to decide whether to resume new troop movement to BCT. “And we will continue to take an abundance of caution to protect our force as this situation develops.”
Recruits take health screenings before initial processing, at their local military entrance processing stations and when they arrive at basic training installations. For their first two weeks, recruits take part in limited training while being closely monitored and taking daily health assessments, said Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, Center for Initial Military Training commander. The recruits will also take the classroom portion of the eight-week basic training curriculum during the controlled-monitoring phase.
“Force health protection is the Army’s top priority,” said Lt. Col. Peggy Kageleiry, CIMT public affairs director. “Protecting the force includes mitigating the spread of the coronavirus by executing strict health protocols at Army training centers. The Army will continue to train new recruits to maintain operational readiness.”
At Fort Sill, Soldiers continue to participate in basic training while practicing proper distancing during physical training and in learning activities. Instructors have changed the dimensions of formations to place recruits 6 feet apart and cadence-calling drills have been eliminated. Indoor classes have also moved outdoors. Col. Michael Konczey, 434th Field Artillery Brigade commander, said March 27 among the recruits and drill sergeants remains high.
Fort Sill will livestream its basic training and advanced leadership training course graduations, which remain closed to the public.
At Fort Leonard Wood, the training base’s 60-bed, open-bay dorm rooms are now housing 30 recruits per room for proper social distancing, a CIMT official said. Kageleiry said recruits and drill sergeants at Leonard Wood and the Army’s other training bases continue to get screened daily to help prevent COVID-19’s spread.
“I get asked a lot, ‘Why are we still training?’” said Col. Adam Hilburgh, 3rd Chemical Brigade commander at Leonard Wood. “The Army’s mission is to fight and win our nation’s wars, and in order to do that we need to maintain readiness. And one of the ways we do that for the Army is to provide trained, disciplined, quality Soldiers to the force, and we do that continuously.”
Fort Benning -- home of the Army’s Infantry School, Armor School, Ranger School, and Airborne School -- suspended all combatives training. At Fort Jackson, base officials confirmed a Soldier in training with 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, and an Army officer enrolled in the Adjutant General Basic Officer Leader Course were among those diagnosed with COVID-19. In-person graduations at the installation have also been canceled.
Gen. James C. McConville, the Army’s chief of staff, said at a press conference on March 20 that protective measures have been implemented because infection prevention is paramount. Should recruits show COVID-19 symptoms, the installations have the required medical capabilities to quarantine and treat all impacted personnel, he said.
“Parents are sending us their sons and daughters,” he said. “We have an obligation to take care of them."