In a concerted effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the military has made an unprecedented decision to stop the movement of troops for overseas movements, including deployments, for the next 60 days.
Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, signed the order effectively stopping all overseas movements for troops until late May. This is an additional stop order to the previous order to stop PCS moves, TDY/TAD, and official government travel by service members, Department of Defense personnel, and dependents.
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The previous stop orders for OCONUS and CONUS travel exempted those who were scheduled for deployments, re-deploying (i.e., returning from deployments), or those who were conducting training exercises overseas. This order, however, puts a hold on all of those previously exempted movements and orders troops to stay in place, either at home or abroad, for the next 60 days. This stop order affects over 90,000 troops. “This measure is taken to aid in further prevention of the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019, to protect U.S. personnel and preserve the operational readiness of our global force,” the Defense Department said.
The Defense Department believes the pandemic will worsen before it gets better, especially in the next three weeks. During a briefing with the press, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that, “You’re looking at somewhere around 90 days based on some of the other countries. That may or may not apply to the United States. If it does apply, you’re looking at probably late May, June, something in that range. Maybe could be as late as July.”
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At the writing of this article, there are currently 227 US service members who have tested positive for the virus in addition to 67 dependents, 81 Defense Department civilians, and 40 defense contractors.
So what does this mean for military families?
What the Overseas Troop Movement Freeze Means for Military Families
As with the other stop orders, the overseas troop movement freeze ordered by Defense Secretary Mark Esper does have a few exceptions but the general order states that:
- All those currently deployed will stay forward deployed for the next 60 days, even if they were scheduled to come home during this time frame.
- All those who were scheduled to deploy in the next 60 days will remain stateside (or in their current location).
- All those who are currently conducting training exercises overseas will remain forward for the next 60 days.
There are some exceptions to the stop order, including:
- Troops who are scheduled to return via ship will still be able to do so, but they will be quarantined for 14 days at sea upon arrival.
- Travel by patients and medical providers for the purposes of medical treatment for DoD personnel and their families is exempted.
- Exemptions may be granted if travel is deemed mission essential, humanitarian in nature or warranted due to extreme hardship. Such exceptions may be approved by Combatant Commanders, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Secretaries of Military Departments.
- If travel has already been initiated then troops will be able to continue the travel.
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Here are some common questions about this new overseas troop movement freeze:
- What does this mean for PCS orders? The previous hold on PCS movements was initiated earlier this month. Currently, PCS orders are scheduled to restart on May 11th. There is no note of that being pushed back at this time.
- Will my spouse be able to return home from deployment? No. If their scheduled return date is within this 60-day window, they are ordered to stay forward deployed. There are exemptions, however, so the best information will come from your spouse’s command.
- Will my spouse be deploying? No. If their scheduled deployment date is within this 60-day window they are ordered to stay in place. There are exemptions, however, so the best information will come from your spouse’s command.
- If my spouse is coming home via a naval ship, can they quarantine at home? No. They are ordered to quarantine at sea before they port onshore.
This overseas troop movement freeze is a huge step for the Defense Department in order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Not only is it affecting 90,000 troops, but it is also affecting their families. Those who were anxiously awaiting the return of their loved one will have to wait even longer. Those who were anticipating a departure will now live in limbo for the next 60 days. As with the other stop orders, the Defense Department will re-evaluate the stop order as the end date draws near to see if it needs to be extended.
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