The Air Force and the Navy have already made decisions to postpone annual fitness tests to help stem the rising spread of COVID-19. The Navy also recently relaxed hair length grooming standards to help sailors maintain proper social distancing.
The Marine Corps has yet to follow suit with other services branches despite rising cases of COVID-19 — there’s currently no Corps-wide plan to postpone annual training requirements or to allow Marines to grow longer hair.
“The Marine Corps is not currently considering a service-wide policy to cancel or codify the postponement of annual training requirements," Capt. Joseph Butterfield, a Marine spokesman told Marine Corps Times.
Butterfield also said the Corps is “not aware of any changes to Marine Corps grooming standards or the delaying of promotion boards.”
“Individual commands are authorized to temporarily postpone scheduled training events for their own units as they deem necessary,” Butterfield said.
However, a Marine official told Marine Corps times that the situation regarding COVID-19 remains fluid and changes could be on the horizon.
But 2nd Marine Air Wing is already taking action by postponing a number of annual training requirements.
According to a briefing slide obtained by Marine Corps Times, an order from 2D MAW has postponed the following: No PFT fitness test, rifle range, pistol range, gas chamber, Marine Corps water survival training or martial arts training.
“2nd MAW understands the importance of preventing the spread of COVID-19. We don’t make any of these decisions lightly. All of the measures that have been put in place throughout 2nd MAW have been implemented in order to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19,” Maj. Binford Strickland, a 2nd MAW spokesman said.
But the Corps’ decentralized and less stringent approach to handling COVID-19 raises questions whether it is doing enough to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Other services have quickly adjusted training, moved annual requirements and relaxed grooming standards.
The Corps on the other hand, has placed the authority into the hands of individual commanders. There is concern that could expose military and civilian populations to the virus over a Gung-Ho! attitude to carry on with training despite warnings and known risks announced daily by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Thousands of Marines are in Yuma, Arizona, for a seven-week air and ground integration training that the top Marine has deemed mission essential despite the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus.
The air and ground coordination training officially kicked off March 8 and is slated to run through April 26. But the conclusion of training falls in the middle of a Defense Department domestic travel ban implemented March 16 to stem the tide of COVID-19.
“Like anything else the Marine Corps does, it has to do it, it’s own way. There’s the right way, the wrong way, and then there is the Marine Corps way,” former Marine Sgt. Elliot Jackson, told Marine Corps Times.
A Marine gunnery sergeant who spoke to Marine Corps Times on condition on anonymity said he doesn’t see a “logical reason” why the Corps shouldn’t relax grooming standards.
The gunny said the Corps and the Navy relaxed grooming standards on the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship McHenry in 2019 during a breakout of the mumps.
“We relaxed hair grooming regs while quarantined on ship to prevent the spread of mumps,” he said.
In 2019, more than a dozen Marines and sailors aboard McHenry were diagnosed with viral parotitis, which can cause symptoms close to the mumps, Navy Times reported. The ship was stuck out to sea for several months under quarantine.
“As the commandant recently stated, commanders and leaders at all levels are to act with the preservation of their force at the forefront of their decision-making,” Butterfield said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.