Military officials are giving local commanders broad authority to determine when troops will be allowed off base, how far they can travel and whether additional restrictions will be placed on their family members as part of the Defense Department’s response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Late Friday night, Pentagon officials announced a total ban on official travel for all domestic locations for troops, civilian employees and military families. Troops will be authorized only “local leave” for the duration of the restrictions, for now set to expire in mid-May.
Defense officials also posted a five-page explainer on the new rules, which went into effect March 16. The document details restrictions on both domestic and international travel, also covering Permanent Change of Station moves and military separation moves.
But officials acknowledged that the document doesn’t answer every question, including issues like how far local leave extends and whether family members who come to visit military bases will be allowed admission.
For now, those challenges will be addressed by local commanders, officials said.
“There are an infinite number of what-if scenarios,” Pentagon officials said in a statement. “To cover them all, it is most appropriate to say local commanders will follow service guidelines to implement the restrictions. Decisions will be made that consider each command’s mission and the individual’s needs.
“Service members should discuss their individual situations with their chain of command.”
In a press call with reporters over the weekend, senior leaders said that “every location has different circumstances as far as the billeting available and ability to have individuals stay at home,” and local planning is underway to draw up clearer plans.
But officials have detailed several scenarios that troops and families may face in coming weeks:
The department guidance lists several exceptions for medical necessity. Decisions on exactly how that is handled will fall to local commanders, but senior leadership is reassuring troops that “travel for medical treatment is still allowed.”
Individuals already in transit
“Those who have already begun their travel may continue on to their final destination,” the defense department guidance states. “Individuals whose TDY ends within stop movement period may return home.”
However, officials are reminding those people that “they should still be mindful of the health protection measures like social distancing and handwashing during their travels.”
Officials acknowledged that some troops and families may already be in the middle of base transfers, making the stop-movement order difficult to follow.
For individuals who have already shipped household goods or vehicles, the leadership response is the same — talk to your chain of command. “Each situation is different.”
As with the case with individuals caught in temporary travel travel uncertainty, “approved reimbursable travel expenses are authorized to be placed on the government travel card.”
None of the travel changes will stop troops from retiring or separating from the armed forces if they were previously scheduled to do so. “They are exempt from the travel restrictions,” they guidance states.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.