The Marine Corps had “scaled back or canceled” a number of service level exercises as COVID-19 continues to disrupt U.S. military training and operations around the globe, acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday morning.
Exercises aboard the Twentynine Palms and the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, both located in California, have either been scaled back or canceled, Modly said.
An integrated training exercise level exercise involving Camp Pendleton, California, based 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, is no longer scheduled to kick off in April, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger, said during the press conference. The decision to axe the exercise in April was made a couple days ago, Berger said.
Modly told reporters there were 44 individuals across the Corps with COVID-19. Those figures breakdown to 31 military, five civilians, five dependents and three contractors.
Two Marines aboard the Parris Island recruit depot in South Carolina have also tested positive for COVID-19. The Corps has recently canceled graduation ceremonies aboard both San Diego and South Carolina recruit depots to help stem the spread of the virus.
The Corps is struggling to curtail training and implement social distancing guidelines advocated by health professionals as COVID-19 continues to spread.
The Corps “has to be ready to respond to a problem around the world," Berger said.
“We’ve never been given advanced notice when that will happen” so Marines “need to conduct training that is necessary” to be ready when the nation needs it to act, Berger said.
The Corps has “curtailed” or “tailored” training where it can to include spreading Marines out more, Berger said. Pistol ranges are now spread out more, with more space between shooters to allow for social distancing, which means more relays need to be run.
But Berger said that Marines “can only do so much” to “moderate social distancing” during live-fire events, especially when Marines are “moving down range.”
The top Marine has placed much of the decision making to respond to COVID-19 in the hands of individual commanders.
But that decision puts pressure on commanders fearful of retribution or future promotion chances, to potentially carry on with training despite risks associated with spreading the virus.
Berger told reporters Thursday that he was “confident” that the right measures were being taken and that the right exercises were being canceled or postponed.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.