Marine and sailors with a crisis response air-ground task force covering Africa are unable to return home to the U.S. due to COVID-19 — and the unit slated to replace the Marine rotation may also be delayed, Marine Forces Europe and Africa announced Wednesday.
The Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa are currently stuck in Spain and Italy — spread across a couple of bases in two of the highest COVID-19 hit countries in Europe.
“In compliance with DOD guidance, the scheduled redeployment of the current rotation of SPMAGTF-CR-AF has been delayed in order to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure to our forces and to stateside communities,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Marine spokesman for Marine Forces Europe and Africa, told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
“Consequently, we also expect a similar delay in the deployment of the next SPMAGTF-CR-AF rotation,” Rankine-Galloway said.
It’s the latest Marine unit to have its rotations stuck in limbo with Marines waiting to return home or deploy. Marines with Marine Rotational Force-Europe are stuck in Norway due to COVID-19 concerns. The rotation slated to replace the Marines in Norway may also be delayed.
COVID-19 continues to have a major impact on U.S. military operations and readiness across the globe.
Rankine-Galloway would not speculate when forces would start moving again, but he said the Corps was working “diligently” to bring the Marines and sailors home. He also said that the crisis response force “continues to maintain its readiness posture for crisis response on the African continent,” despite the setback in travel arrangements.
Italy and Spain have been two of the hardest hit places in Europe. Spain’s Ministry of Health is reporting 47,610 COVID-19 cases and 3,434 dead as of Wednesday. According to the World Health Organization, there are 69,176 COVID-19 cases across Italy and 6,820 deaths.
Both countries have restricted the movements of millions of their citizens by instituting lockdowns across both countries.
Rankine-Galloway says the Marines and sailors of the Africa crisis response force are currently living in barracks facilities aboard Moron Air Base, Spain, and Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy. He said there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases across the crisis response force.
The Corps has restricted the movements of the unit to specific unit areas at Moron Air Base and Naval Air Station Sigonella to comply with host nation requirements, Rankine-Galloway detailed. The measures were adopted to slow the spread of COVID-19, he said.
“Consistent with CDC [Centers for Diseas Control and Prevention], DOD and host nation health guidance, SPMAGTF-CR-AF is enforcing appropriate hygiene procedures and social distancing measures, as well as monitoring for COVID-19 related symptoms,” Rankine-Galloway said.
“U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa continues to command and control its allocated forces; plan for future operations, exercises and engagements; and maintains its readiness posture for operations in Europe and Africa,” he said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.