As the military continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Military Times will keep you informed about the latest closings and cancellations.
Following directives to avoid mass gatherings for public safety amid the Coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) is canceled, the National Defense Industrial Association announces today.
NDIA manages SOFIC for U.S. Special Operations Command; its annual event draws thousands of people from around the world to Tampa, Florida. The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus and national efforts to stop it led NDIA and USSOCOM to decide not to hold this year’s event.
This year, as with other year, there was a capabilities demonstration scheduled featuring commandos from around the world “rescuing” Tamp’s mayor from “bad guys.”
“NDIA and USSOCOM fully agree the safety and wellness of attendees and participants always are our utmost priority,” said Hawk Carlisle, NDIA’s president and CEO. “We look forward to this important annual gathering of the special operations community and the people and businesses that support them, surrounded by the warm welcome of Tampa. We will look forward to this gathering next year.”
This year’s SOFIC was scheduled for May 11-14 at the Tampa Convention Center and would have featured the biennial capabilities demonstration of international Special Operations Forces.
Further details on SOFIC are available on SOFIC.org and will be updated frequently
Invictus Games postponed
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the board of the Invictus Games, scheduled to take place in The Hague from May 9-16, has been postponed, organizers say.
The Invictus Games is an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick service men and women, both serving and veterans. The games use the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and generate a wider understanding and respect of all those who serve their country.
“We are now investigating all options to reschedule the Invictus Games, subject to the availability of key facilities and resources, to May or June 2021,” according to the organization’s website. “Significant planning to scope and confirm this option is underway.”
This decision was taken in consultation with the participating nations’ teams and in close coordination with local and national authorities to limit the impact of the pandemic on all parties involved in the delivery of, and particularly participation in, the Games
DoDEA Pacific East Temporarily Closes Schools in Japan
Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools in Japan are finally taking a brief hiatus from in-person learning, amid the COVID-19 outbreak. According to a letter from DoDEA Pacific, schools in Japan and Okinawa will temporarily close starting on March 23 and students will move to virtual learning on March 25.
“The decision to close Japan schools was made out of an abundance of caution and in order to allow for a thorough school cleaning, which would not be possible while students are in the building," DoDEA Pacific said in the letter Thursday. "This pause will also allow school officials to work to augment necessary cleaning supplies and enhance institutional mitigation measures.”
So far, DoDEA Pacific reports that there have been no cases of COVID-19 among its students. However, Sullivans Elementary School on Yokosuka Naval Base that two students have been tested for the virus.
“We are directing parents to keep their children home and avoid public locations while we await test results,” Dr. Gregg Mowen, DoDEA Pacific East’s community superintendent at the Yokosuka Field Office, said in a letter Thursday. “We anticipate getting the results tomorrow.”
Schools in Japan are slated to return back to the classroom on April 13, following the scheduled spring break.
There are more than 800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Japan, according to the World Health Organization.
Marine air show at Cherry Point
The 2020 Cherry Point air show originally scheduled to take place from May 1 to May 3 has been cancelled in attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, according to a Marine Corps release.
The annual airshow, held at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, was cancelled in light of the “evolving situation” caused by the global pandemic, according to a Marine Corps press release.
“The decision is also in step with community, state and federal guidance of suspending or canceling events with large gatherings, aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19,” the release said.
U.S. Africa Command is canceling its multinational, maritime exercise Phoenix Express next month, in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
“The decision not to proceed with the exercise comes in response to the global effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), while minimizing exposure of U.S. and partner nation service members to this virus,” AFRICOM said in a news release Tuesday.
The exercise was slated to kick off on April 5 in the Mediterranean Sea. The annual exercise is intended to boost regional cooperation, facilitate sharing information, and enhance maritime domain awareness, among other things, according to AFRICOM.
The announcement comes a day after the command announced that U.S. Army Africa’s multinational exercise African Lion was also being nixed this year.
Last year’s Phoenix Express exercise involved countries including Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. AFRICOM says planning is ongoing for next year’s exercise.
Scaled-back Marine reserve drills
The Marine reserves will no longer conduct monthly drills for non-essential personnel in an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus and keep the force healthy, according Marine officials.
“For more than 100 years Reserve Marines have gone in harm’s way against our nation’s threats,” Lt. Gen. David Bellon, commander of Marine Forces Reserve, said in a statement released to the Marine Forces Reserve Facebook page.
“We overcome obstacles and we win battles,” he said, “Our latest challenge with COVID-19 will be no different.”
The statement announced that all travel not considered “mission-essential” will be canceled along with any drills, training and community relations events that expose sailors and Marines in the reserves to public gatherings.
Bellon said that even though Marines will not be attending their drill during the crisis, they are still expected to maintain their physical fitness and be ready to deploy when needed.
The Naval History and Heritage Command has directed all U.S. Navy museums to temporarily close to the public until March 31 as a precautionary measure to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The public is invited to explore Navy history through the NHHC website by visiting www.history.navy.mil. The affected museums include:
* National Museum of the United States Navy (Washington Navy Yard, DC)
* National Museum of Naval Aviation (Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.)
* National Museum of the American Sailor (Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill.)
* Hampton Roads Naval Museum (Norfolk, Va.)
* United States Navy Seabee Museum (Naval Base Ventura County, Calif.)
* Submarine Force Museum/USS NAUTILUS (Sub Base New London, Conn.)
* United States Naval Undersea Museum (Keyport, Wash.)
* Puget Sound Navy Museum (Bremerton, Wash.)
* Naval War College Museum (Naval Station Newport, RI)
* United States Naval Academy Museum (U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.)
The National Museum of the Marine Corps closed March 14 as a precaution. The museum advises the public to check its website for updates regarding when it will reopen.
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force temporarily closed March 15 as a public health precaution. All events and activities scheduled at the museum have been cancelled or postponed until further notice. The museum will re-evaluate its closure status on a week-to-week basis and will provide the latest updates on the museum website and social media sites.
Public Health Emergency at Joint Base Andrews
Joint Base Andrews installation commander declared a public health emergency March 16. This allows certain protective measures such as restricting base movement and limiting services, officials said. The order stays in place for 30 days.
Taking this step “allows us a proactive approach to protect the safety and health of our airmen and the surrounding community,” said Col Andrew Purath, commander of the 11th Wing and Joint Base Andrews.
At 11 a.m. March 17, Purath and his command chief will hold a Facebook Live session to address concerns related to the coronavirus. The live stream will be on the Joint Base Andrews Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jointbaseandrews.
The state of Maryland and various counties in the state are in similar states of emergency.
DoD school closures
The following schools in the Department of Defense Education Activity system have announced they will be closed to students:
U.S.: Fort Knox and Fort Campbell, Ky., West Point, NY; Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Laurel Bay and Fort Jackson, S.C.; Fort Benning., Ga. (as of March 18); Puerto Rico (as of March 17); and Fort Rucker, Ala., (as of March 18).
Overseas: Schools in Turkey, Germany, Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands, Italy, Bahrain, and South Korea.
Some DoDEA schools, such as those at Quantico Marine Corps Base, are in spring break this week.
For more information, visit the website of your local DoDEA school and www.dodea.edu/Coronavirus.cfm.
The decision about closing DoDEA schools resides ultimately with the installation commander or senior mission commander, said DoDEA spokesman Will Griffin. But DoDEA officials provide information and recommendations based on their assessments, working closely with local commands both stateside and overseas, he said.
The first U.S.-based school to close was Fort Knox, announcing March 13 that schools would be closed to students and aren’t expected to reopen until April 6. A number of states announced over the weekend that their schools would close for at least a couple of weeks.
*Newman’s Own Awards, scheduled for March 19 at the Pentagon, has been canceled. In the 20 years the awards program has been in existed, Newman’s Own has given more than $2 million to more than 174 non-profit organizations that provide innovative quality of life programs in the military and veteran communities. The 2019 award winners will be honored in a ceremony in the fall along with the 2020 honorees.
*Military Child of the Year awards gala, scheduled for April 2, has been canceled. In its 12th year, the Military Child of the Year honors the achievements of seven military children – one from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard; with a separate award for innovation. A “virtual event” is being planned for April to honor the children, who were chosen in a competition that included more than 400 military children.
Support and entertainment
USO officials temporarily suspended all its USO Airport Centers in the U.S. March 13 because of concerns about spreading the new coronavirus.
As far as the famed USO tours with celebrities, officials will evaluate entertainment tours and postpone or cancel events as needed, USO officials said, “to align with military and civic requirements to minimize public gatherings.” For example, Ciara had to postpone her concert scheduled for March 19 at Fort Hood due to travel restrictions.
Airport centers will remain closed until further notice and will affect more than 51 airports in 25 states. On a weekly basis, officials will evaluate whether the centers can be reopened.
U.S. Africa Command announced Monday that the upcoming, multinational exercise African Lion will be canceled to safeguard against the spread of COVID-19 — less than a week after the command announced plans to scale back the exercise.
“Cancellation of this exercise is a preventative measure to ensure U.S. and partner force protection and to alleviate coronavirus concern,” AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Chris Karns told Military Times. “It does not lessen our resolve to our partners nor our commitment to countering common enemies and threats on the continent.”
The exercise, the largest one organized by U.S. Army Africa, was scheduled to start on March 23 and involve roughly 3,800 U.S. troops from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Additionally, more than 5,000 troops from more than a dozen countries — including Morocco, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom — were slated to participate.
Originally, AFRICOM was planning to modify the exercise and eliminate components that required troops to remain in close quarters.
The exercise, which was supposed to occur in Morocco, is designed to foster interoperability among partner nations to counter transnational threats and threats from violent extremist organizations, according to AFRICOM.
Despite the exercise’s cancelation, the command has stressed that it will keep working with partner nations to quash threats on the African continent.
“In Africa, we will continue to work together to counter mutual threats and strengthen collective readiness via a collaborative and collective approach,” Karns said. “Whether it is preventing the potential of an infectious disease or preventing the spread of dangerous violent extremist ideologies and activities, cooperation and working together will reduce both in size, scope, and potential to do harm.”
There are more than 150,000 cases of COVID-19 around the world, and more than 5,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
The virus has infected multiple service members and dependents stationed worldwide, including a soldier in South Korea, a sailor in Italy, and a Marine in Virginia.
Soldiers in Europe for Defender 2020 to return home amid pandemic
U.S. officials are significantly reducing the size and scope of the long-awaited Defender 2020 exercise intended to test the Army’s ability to move a division-sized force from U.S. seaports to European training grounds this spring.
The exercise included 20,000 soldiers who were meant to conduct training across 10 European countries. Several linked exercises — Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response — will no longer be conducted, Army Europe officials said Monday.
Approximately 6,000 soldiers had already deployed from the United States to Europe since January, including a division headquarters and an armored brigade combat team.
“We anticipate the armored brigade combat team already deployed to Europe will conduct gunnery and other combined training events with Allies as part of a modified Allied Spirit exercise," Army officials said in a statement. "Forces already deployed to Europe for other linked exercises will return to the United States.”
The exercise is being curtailed due to the outbreak of the novel form of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, which has made its way through Europe. As of Friday, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe were suspended.
Equipment for the exercise already started to arrive at ports like Bremerhaven, Germany, earlier this winter, as part of the opening salvo of the largest deployment of soldiers from mainland United States to Europe in a quarter century.
Defender 2020 drew parallels to the Cold War-era REFORGER exercise in Europe, which simulated a NATO deployment to West Germany in the event of a conflict with the Soviet Union. This year’s exercise was planned to simulate a fictional near-peer competitor in a post-Article V environment set in the year 2028.
The Army still plans to conduct another division-sized exercise in the Indo-Pacific region in fiscal year 2021.
Marine Corps cancellations
Public graduations at both Marine Corps recruit depots, Officer Candidates School and The Basic School have been canceled in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, Marine Corps officials confirmed.
The decision to end public graduations was made after Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger ordered the Corps to do all it can to avoid large public gatherings, a Marine official said Friday.
“The guidance of the commandant was to minimize to the greatest extent possible large public gatherings,” Capt. Bryan McDonnell, a spokesman for the Marine Corps recruit depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, told Marine Corps Times Friday. “By their nature, obviously, graduations are a large public gathering."
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.