As States Relax Rules, Military Bases Take First Reopening Steps

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U.S. Marine Col. Jeffrey C. Holton Camp Pendleton
U.S. Marine Col. Jeffrey C. Holt, the deputy commander of Marine Corps Installations West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, receives hand sanitizer prior to a walkthrough of the newly reopened High Intensity Tactical Training center at Paige Fieldhouse in 13 Area on Camp Pendleton, California, May 1, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Alison Dostie)

Marines at Camp Pendleton in California could go surfing again last week. Hill Air Force Base in Utah reopened the Hubbard Golf Course. And the Army has cranked up basic training for incoming recruits.

These are among the first, cautious steps in a lengthy, complicated process to resume normal activities in the military as states and localities increasingly relax the strict guidelines in place to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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The military's overall policy on lifting restrictions, both in the states and overseas, is undergoing review by the Pentagon. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have stressed that they are taking the long view on how to deal with the virus.

"There will be a new normal that we will have to adapt to for an extended period of time, at least until we have a vaccine that we're confident in," Esper said at a May 4 virtual Brookings Institution event. "The long-term view is: What do we do over the next 6, 12, 18 months?"

The review will take a while and will be "a little bit more complex because we've got to look at individual states, individual localities" and what their restrictions are, Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said at a briefing May 15. "I think that's part of that review that we're looking at, and it's going to be conditioned on a number of things."

He said the policy review will have to take into account what the state and local governments have directed and decide on how bases coordinate "so that if they have a force condition or a health condition that they've set, how do we interact with them and ensure that we're working closely with them to make sure our people are protected?"

Individual installations have been given some leeway in adapting to local conditions.

Brig. Gen. Dan Conley, commander of Marine Corps Installations West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, announced a few changes in a May 7 post.

He said indoor gyms were reopening, along with beaches on post for "expanded surfing, swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking -- those types of events. What we're not going to do yet is open it for large unit gatherings."

"As we can, we're going to open more things," but the requirements for wearing face masks, observing social distancing, and other restrictions remain in place, Conley said.

Also on May 7, the Air Force Academy announced the start of a slow and deliberate reopening of some facilities.

Tee times were open for reservation at the Eisenhower Golf Course; surgical and medical specialty clinics opened for personal appointments; and fishing ponds and hiking and biking trails were reopened for DoD beneficiaries, the academy said in a release.

"We continually assess what we can reopen while keeping our community safe," said Col. Brian Hartless, commander of the academy's host unit, the 10th Air Base Wing. "We're moving ahead cautiously just like the state of Colorado, the Colorado Springs community we live in … while bearing in mind that we remain in a public health emergency."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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