(USA Features) As the coronavirus continues to spread, the disease has begun to sicken an increasing number of U.S. military forces, leaving commanders concerned that military readiness has begun to suffer.
On Monday, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of the Navy’s monster super-carriers, made an urgent plea to the Pentagon for assistance and guidance as the virus began to spread throughout the ship, where about 4,000 sailors are stationed.
“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Capt. Brett Crozier wrote, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors,” he continued, noting at the time that about 100 sailors were ill.
The ship is docked in Guam and has been since the outbreak began to spread. What he is requesting is unprecedented: Removing all 4,000 personnel from the ship and placing them into quarantine while the vessel is cleaned, effectively taking the massive warship out of service.
The outbreak has created one of the most challenging situations the Pentagon has faced in decades: Monitoring global threats and maintaining a ready-to-fight force while trying to mitigate military personnel exposure to the virus.
“The Defense Department already has scrambled to adjust its training protocols, stopped the movement of all troops around the world, halted most major military exercises, retargeted contracts, shut down base activities and personal travel, and, in some cases, temporarily shut down the pipeline bringing new recruits into the fold,” the Washington Times reported.
But these changes must be balanced with the reality that most of the military can’t telework and ships at sea cannot simply shelter in place: They must remain ready to fight at a moment’s notice, disease or not.
Military analysts say that the Pentagon should prepare to be impacted for several months.
“My gut feeling is probably six months,” Dakota L. Wood, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who served two decades in the Marine Corps, told the Times.
“I think that you can have dramatically reduced exercises and training for several months. … We all have a lot of muscle memory; we have recollections of doing certain things certain ways. But over time, that starts to degrade,” he continued.
“At some point, you’re going to start seeing degradation in the military readiness of the units,” he added.
As of Tuesday, the Defense Department said there are 1,259 COVID-19 cases among service members, civilian Defense Department employees, dependents of service members and military contractors.
Of those, at least four have died and 51 have recovered.