A rotation of several hundred Marines to Norway has been stuck in the country with no date yet to return home due to COVID-19 concerns, according to U.S. Marine Forces Europe and Africa
An incoming rotation slated to replace the Marines assigned to Marine Rotational Force – Europe may also be delayed, further complicating efforts to bring the Marines home and reignite training in Europe’s high north.
The Corps’ nearly six-month deployment to the Arctic country has ended, yet the Marines are sitting in Norway amidst a viral pandemic waiting to deploy back to the United States.
“In compliance with DOD guidance, the scheduled redeployment of the current rotation of MRF-E has been delayed in order to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure to our forces and to stateside communities. Consequently, we also expect a similar delay in the deployment of the next MRF-E rotation,” Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa, told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
Rankine-Galloway said he would not speculate on when forces would start moving again, but he said the Corps was working “diligently” to get the deployed Marines back home in a safe manner.
“We are working closely with the cognizant military organizations to carry out these movements in a manner that minimizes the risk of COVID-19 exposure to our Marines, stateside communities, and our Norwegian counterparts,” Rankine-Galloway said.
The delay in moving Marines in and out of Norway may also have broader impacts on training in the Arctic. COVID-19 concerns have already canceled a large-scale exercise in the Arctic country known as Cold Response.
It’s the latest Marine deployment suffering a setback that was slated to rotate to strategic locations central to the Corps’ plans to confront peer adversaries. COVID-19 continues to throw a wrench into the U.S. military’s plans to pivot to the near-peer fight.
A Marine infantry battalion rotation set to participate in six months of training in Australia was recently told its deployment was put on hold. The Marines are still preparing for a potential on-time deployment while waiting for a final decision.
The cancellation of the remainder of the exercise is the latest in a string of U.S. and joint training events that have been canceled or scaled back as a result of COVID-19.
Norweigan officials canceled the remaining portion of Cold Response, which kicked off on March 8 — as COVID-19 began to pick up steam around the globe. The exercise involved nearly 15,000 troops from allied and partnered nations with roughly 1,500 U.S. troops slated to participate.
COVID-19 is continuing to cause severe disruptions across Europe and in Norway, where the U.S. State Department says there are 2,566 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
On March 16, Norway closed its borders to foreign nationals who lack a residence permit, according to the State Department.
Rankine-Galloway said the Marines in Norway continue to enforce hygiene and social distancing measures while montioring for COVID-19 symptoms.
“We are complying with Norwegian military requirements, and restricting personnel movements to specific unit areas within the Norwegian military installations,” he said. “These measures are in place to reduce the risk of cross-unit COVID-19 exposure.”