The school that prepares newly commissioned or appointed officers in the basics of being a rifle platoon commander has been stricken with a handful of COVID-19 cases.
Maj. Joshua Benson, a Marine spokesman, confirmed to Marine Corps Times that there were a few confirmed COVID-19 cases across The Basic School, but he did not provide the total number of staff or students infected with the virus.
The Defense Department has cited operational security concerns regarding unit specific breakdowns of COVID-19 cases.
An outbreak of COVID-19 temporarily halted new incoming recruits for training aboard Parris Island, South Carolina, but TBS continues to train with modifications to the course and safety precautions implemented to protect staff and students.
To weather the onslaught of COVID-19, The Basic School aboard the Marine Quantico, Virginia, base has modified its training schedule, shifted field exercises and pushed classroom activities to the virtual realm to aid in social distancing and safeguard students attending the six-month course, according to Benson.
Parris Island said in a news release that in the future incoming recruits will enter a 14-day “staging period” where they will undergo a medical screening and be provided classes before stepping on the yellow footprints — the beginning step to becoming a Marine.
Following a positive COVID-19 test, a contact trace is conducted and “out of an abundance of caution” those at risk are put into restriction of movement and isolated in their rooms, Benson said.
“This does impact training; however, no critical training evolution has been canceled,” Benson said.
“TBS is not taking this situation lightly and is continuing to abide by DoD, Marine Corps, Training Command, CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and Commonwealth of Virginia guidance,” Benson said.
Benson says no field exercises have been canceled as a result of COVID-19, and students continue to “progress” towards graduation. Bravo company completed a field exercise last week and other field exercises will shift, “but will otherwise still occur,” he explained.
But photos obtained by Marine Corps Times show efforts at TBS to implement social distancing and other guidance from the DoD and health experts to be a bit of a hodgepodge affair.
Recent photos, taken over the last two weeks, depict hikes and formations with properly implemented social distancing.
But other photos highlight mass martial arts training formations and a sand table exercise where Marines are crowded around a small table.
A Marine source who provided the photos gave permission to publish the photo of martial arts training but asked Marine Corps Times to withhold showing other training photos aboard TBS due to the sensitivity of the issue. The photographs have been viewed by Marine Corps Times.
Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, or MCMAP training is still ongoing aboard TBS, Benson said. But the training has been altered to include using a large field to allow students to spread out and practice social distancing.
Benson explained that roommates are paired during MCMAP for “partner based techniques” to help stymie the spread of the virus.
“Company to company interaction has been restricted and platoons are adjusting to social distancing as much as feasible,” Benson said. “More vehicles are used to transport platoons and events have been staggered to allow social distancing and minimize risk of exposure.”
Benson explained that classroom instruction has also gone virtual.
New guidance from the DoD calling on service members and personnel to wear face masks when unable to maintain six-feet of social distancing is being implemented to the “maximum extent possible,” Benson explained.
The Marine Corps released guidance on Monday detailing the types of face masks and coverings approved for wear.
“Any face covering that is conservative in appearance, not offensive, and conforms to the below CDC guidance is acceptable to be worn in uniform," a recent Marine message reads. The issued balaclava and neck gaiter is also approved.
Marines are encouraged to make their own face mask and can even use a green skivvy shirt — sewing skills not required.
“The Basic School understands the necessity to balance force preservation with mission accomplishment and absolutely everything is being done to ensure both,” Benson said.
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“As we navigate the COVID-19 health crisis, we must strike a balance between maintaining our operational readiness and implementing the necessary health precautions to preserve our combat power and protect our communities."
The top Marine said Sunday that Marines “must continue to train” to prepare for the next crisis despite an ongoing viral pandemic that has canceled exercises and delayed planned U.S. military rotations across the globe.
The Marine Corps has come under criticism for keeping barbershops open, pushing field exercises and continuing with recruit training as COVID-19 continues to disrupt military operations and planning.
“We train so that we can be ready to go,” Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger, said in a video posted Sunday. “We never get the chance to pick the next crisis, where it happens, when it happens.”
Benson said students are encouraged to speak to their chain of command if they have concerns.
“This is a unique time in the history of our Corps and we remain committed to ensuring America’s number one crisis response force is prepared,” Benson said.