A North Dakota Army National Guardsman is the 12th service member to die of COVID-19 complications, according to the Defense Department’s tally.
Master Sgt. Robert Thomas Lawson, 48, died Nov. 24, NDNG spokesman Bill Prokopyk confirmed to Military Times. He could not confirm Lawson’s exact cause of death, as a medical examiner has not yet issued a death certificate.
Lawson is the fourth reported service member to die this month from complications of the virus, as daily deaths and new diagnoses in the U.S. continue to rise at record rates.
A combat engineer, he deployed to Iraq in 2003, where he earned the Bronze Star. In his civilian career, he worked as a construction supervisor.
November’s nationwide explosion in new coronavirus cases has bumped the infection rate to 4 percent of U.S. residents, which is roughly the same infection rate among DoD service members.
And while military deaths continue to be orders of magnitude more rare than the U.S.’s overall rate, which stands at 2 percent, the recent surge in new infections and deaths is hitting the military as well.
Since the first service member died in April, there have been roughly one or two new deaths a month. After two in September and none in October, there have been four so far reported in November.
The most recent include two Air National Guardsmen, one from Texas and one from Hawaii whom leadership declined to identify, as well as Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Calvin Ogletree, a 52-year-old, Florida-based motor transport operator.
Cases among service members have surpassed 79,000, as of Monday. At the same time, certain installations are reinstating health protection measures to reduce the number of personnel working on-site.
That includes the Pentagon, which upped its restrictions on Friday, sending more personnel home to telework while increasing temperature screenings at entrances.
With several promising prototypes completing human trials, the question now is when and whether service members will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Health care professionals, essential workers and long-term care facility residents are at the top of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s priority list, but the Pentagon’s top spokesman told reporters on Tuesday that he didn’t yet know where troops ― including military medical personnel ― would fall on that plan.
“As soon as we are at a place where we’re prepared, with the approval of CDC and [the Food and Drug Administration], to release that information, we’ll be doing so,” Jonathan Hoffman said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.