From Michigan to Maine, protestors increasingly shun social distancing and demand that our governments “Liberate Us.” They insist that their governors’ move the dial’ more quickly and open the economy. Most of these protestors closed ranks and wore no protective masks.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer tackled the problematic issue of social distancing through a popular SNL video. She said that “If the tip of your AK-47 touches the tip of your buddy’s AK-47, you are too close.”
COVID-19 Poses A Clear and Precipitous Danger
Face it. With record unemployment and business closures, people are ready to move forward. They long to grab a hot dog and a beer, and head for the ballpark. But is the nation prepared for that? And why should our military warfighters be concerned?
As of this writing, America had 1.37 million cases of COVID-19, 80,653 deaths, and 214 thousand recovered. Most fatal diagnoses involved those above 60 years old or those with underlying medical conditions. These are not the people you see in line at MEPS.
On May 6th Twitter exploded with a viral post of a memo disbarring permanently from military service any applicants with a history of COVID-19. Before getting into the trenches with details, pause in your foxhole and shout Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot!
The offending policy required screening of all MEPS applicants upon arrival. Initial testing included temperature checks and personal history questions concerning symptoms and potential contact with COVID-19 carriers. Fail the test and go home for fourteen days – with the caveat that you could return and try again if you are symptom-free. Rinse and repeat?
But what happens if you receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis? “During the medical history interview or examination, a history of COVID-19, confirmed by either a laboratory test or a clinician diagnosis, is permanently disqualifying . . . “per the memo. That’s it. End of game.
Stand outside any recruiting station – if you can find one open – and count the applicants in line. Hopefully, they are standing masked and six-feet apart. Even an academy-trained junior officer can handle these single-digit numbers. Nobody is barring the doors to hold back a flood of applicants.
In fact, only 29% of the prime candidate pool of men and women aged 17-24 in the United States is eligible to join the military. Why so few? The answer is obvious in a nation more given to sedentary role-playing than getting their hands in the dirt.
Start with the number one killer: obesity. You can’t lose weight playing video games. Add to that disqualifying criminal records, ADD/ADHD, asthma, and failure to complete High School. That is just the tip of the iceberg.
All Hands On Deck In COVID-19 Conflict
So, is COVID19 a no-go for military service? Check out the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Most of the sailors were under 30-years old. One thousand tested positive for COVID-19. Nine were hospitalized. Unfortunately, one died. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are strong and resilient, up to the task of facing even COVID-19.
Despite the critical public examination of the Naval leadership response to COVID-19 aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, our Navy continues to carry on.
When called upon, the USS Comfort and USS Mercy reported in record time to supplement city hospitals overrun by COVID-19 patients. COVID-19 related travel restrictions don’t apply to the multiple thousands of sailors serving daily in harm’s way.
About-Face Order Issued on Disqualification Policy
Shortly after issuing what they defined as ‘part of an interim memo,’ the Pentagon did an About-Face on its no-go assessment. Public outrage sparked a 180-degree turn towards a more amiable policy.
The MEPSCOM policy retains an interim standing. In typical military fashion, policies evolve with the ‘needs of the military.’ The now-current system permits MEPS to accept recruits with no COVID-19 related hospitalization. What exactly does that mean?
The policy, while encouraging, doesn’t cover all circumstances. It leaves a bit of wiggle room for interpretation. For example, how does it define hospitalization? Attempt to triage the policy definition. You may be permitted a single emergency room visit, but you might cross the line if given oxygen or fluids. Intubation or ventilator care could be the ultimate game-changer. The boundaries are unclear.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Most young recruits with COVID-19 suffer minor symptoms such as a short-term cough or fever. After a few weeks, they are fit to ‘move, shoot, and communicate’ with no long-term consequences.
These warriors must be fast-tracked into useful service.
More daunting are those suffering the residual and ongoing effects of extreme outcomes. Hospitalization could cause lung or other organ damage. Because of these individual’s uncertain futures, a more cautious slow-moving track is needed.
Most people can and will survive these debilitating conditions. But can a military recruit thrive and excel through basic military training and beyond?
Ultimately military readiness and national security demand that MEPSCOM err on the side of caution. There is too much at stake to do less.
The Pentagon carries a daily obligation to its fighting force, their families and the nation. The overarching mandate is to protect our fighting force from all enemies – including COVID-19.