Sailors render honors to a passing vessel while manning the rails aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz

After the Virus: How COVID-19 Changed the US Military Forever

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As COVID-19 cases surged around the globe in early 2020, the U.S. military, like other organizations, took radical steps to stop the spread of the disease.

Most training and global travel came to a halt; recruiting went virtual; some deployments were cut short or sidelined amid outbreaks. Even though active-duty troops make up a disproportionately young and low-risk population, the military has not been spared its share of untimely deaths, either: COVID-19 claimed the life of the first service member March 30, 2020, and has since been responsible for the deaths of 336 Defense Department-connected personnel as of April 13, including 24 service members.

Even as vaccination rates rise and the world begins a slow return to normal, long-term effects of the pandemic continue to be felt in the form of masking, testing, distancing and elaborate hygiene protocols at military bases and training centers worldwide.

More significantly, the global pandemic forced some irreversible changes to military operations and protocol, and some of the steps the Defense Department took to combat COVID-19 will have lasting or permanent impacts on how the force operates.

In this series, Military.com explores the full effects of COVID-19 on the military, from recruiting and training to law and policy, and assesses how a global pandemic moved the world's greatest fighting force into the future -- for better and for worse.

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