- The COVID-19 crisisis changing the way future Army soldiers are trained at the Fort Benning military base near Columbus, Georgia.
- As of March 29, six confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been connected to Fort Benning. According to the Army, the patients were not part of training operations.
- Due to the crisis, some aspects of training that involve physical contact have been suspended, and physical distancingis being applied to exercises that will continue to occur.
- New medical screenings have been incorporated into the reception of the hundreds of soldiers that arrive every week to begin their training.
- All visitors are prohibited from attending graduation ceremonies, and recent graduates are being held at Fort Benning for the immediate future instead of being shipped to their new units.
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Following is a transcript of the video.Gary Brito: The Army’s mission will not stop. We’re gonna continue to train within some limitations. This is very hard. I’m just gonna lay it out, this is hard. Hard in that we’re also gonna continue to train our mission.Narrator: The COVID-19 crisis has already made an impact on training at the US Army’s Manoeuvre Centre of Excellence inside the Fort Benning military base. New medical screenings and protocols are changing the way basic training is conducted. Every year about 69,000 soldiers arrive at Fort Benning, where future infantry and armour soldiers go through basic combat training. The footage of training in this video was shot when we visited Fort Benning in February of 2020, before training was impacted by the crisis. As of March 28th, six confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been connected to Fort Benning. According to the Army, the patients were not part of training operations. On March 24, Fort Benning’s commanding general gave updates and answered questions in a town hall broadcast on Facebook Live.Brito: For the mums and dads that are out there and all the loved ones across America, we do not have any positive COVID-19 cases in the training base right now. Now I’m not gonna be naive and say that it may not happen, but we’ll continue to screen, we’ll continue to offer the best protection and mitigation measures that we can for all of our soldiers.Narrator: Every week, hundreds of new recruits arrive from all over the country to begin their One Station Unit Training, usually on buses like this one. According to Major General Gary Brito, new recruits will still be received amid the pandemic.Brito: At this point we’ll also continue to receive future soldiers, although perhaps in some smaller numbers over the next couple of months.Narrator: According to Brito, incoming recruits get their temperature taken before they board the vehicle that takes them to Fort Benning and they’re asked questions about where they have recently been and if they’re feeling any symptoms.Brito: We can make the call when a person shows up and they may be coming from one of those states that is heavily hit like New York State at this time and move he or she directly to a safe quarantine location to ensure that we minimise the risk of any COVID-19 spreads.Narrator: As for the thousands of recruits currently training at Fort Benning, training will continue, albeit with some limitations.Brito: As you well know, we’re gonna continue our training, there’s a lot of measures in place to assist us in social distancing, managing physical distance and the simple risks that our soldiers may be opened up to.Narrator: As you can see from this footage shot in February, some of the training requires physical contact, but because of the new health risks, recruits are being ordered to incorporate a so-called physical dispersion of at least 40 inches, which is a bit more than three feet between themselves and other recruits. According to Fort Benning, training like you see here known as combatives, which requires physical contact, has been temporarily suspended. And for training like military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, instructors are ordering recruits to incorporate social distancing as much as possible.Brito: The commanders and command sergeant majors are empowered to keep the soldiers physically fit, keeping in mind, the dispersion and the group stuff just needs to stop. That is something that will continue, we’ll have to continue to monitor and stop people if they’re doing the wrong thing.Narrator: Perhaps the biggest impact is what happens to the soldiers after they graduate. All visitors are prohibited from attending graduation ceremonies, which typically happen every week and the future timelines for graduates ready to join the Army remains unclear.Brito: As of now they will remain here at Fort Benning, and we’re working with the Army through Department of Defence policies on how and when they will be shipped to their gaining unit. I cannot put a timeline on that now.Narrator: According to Major General Brito, there is no shortage of space at Fort Benning to house the graduates who, for now, cannot leave.Brito: And so far it’s going well for us. But I don’t wanna be naive enough to say that the threat was not gonna continue. And we’ll mitigate and treat it the best we can and make the prudent decisions to protect our force, family members, civilians and soldiers included of all ranks, the best we can as well.