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Hawaii military deployments upended by coronavirus

                                Schofield Barracks soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment and their counterparts from the Royal Thai Army, officially started Exercise Hanuman Guardian 20 at an opening ceremony Feb. 24 at Camp Friendship in Korat, Thailand.
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Schofield Barracks soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment and their counterparts from the Royal Thai Army, officially started Exercise Hanuman Guardian 20 at an opening ceremony Feb. 24 at Camp Friendship in Korat, Thailand.

At least 15 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed within the U.S. military in Hawaii, with a sailor assigned to a Pearl Harbor shore command among recent cases.

A service member at Special Operations Command Pacific at Camp H.M. Smith also is part of the list.

But the Army community in Hawaii is by far reporting the most cases — 12 as of this evening.

The potential for the fast-moving virus to spread in the close quarters of ship-based crews had the Navy send the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to Guam today to test all 5,000 aboard.

A new overseas “stop movement” order put in place by the Pentagon, meanwhile, has raised questions about current deployments of Schofield Barracks soldiers to Thailand and Iraq and Hawaii National Guard soldiers to Afghanistan and left other key Pacific assignments in doubt.

Three crew members initially tested positive on the Theodore Roosevelt, and “we found several more cases onboard the ship,” Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said at a press briefing today. “We are now in the process of testing 100% of the crew of that ship to ensure that we are able to contain whatever spread might have occurred.”

ABC News reported at lease 23 infected on the ship.

Modly said the five new crew members flown off the ship for monitoring “are currently doing fine.”

“None of them have been required to be hospitalized because their symptoms are very mild and they are aches and pains and those types of things, sore throats,” he said.

Chuck Little, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Pacific at Camp Smith, said to date, the Marine Corps in Hawaii has had only one confirmed case of COVID-19.

The afflicted Pacific forces Marine, who returned from the mainland last Friday, was treated and discharged that same day from Tripler Army Medical Center, and remains in quarantine in off-base quarters, Little said.

The Air Force has not reported any cases in the state. The service did not respond to requests for clarification today.

COVID-19 measures included the enactment Wednesday of a 60-day “stop movement” order for all overseas Defense Department uniformed and civilian personnel and their sponsored family members to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The order by Defense Secretary Mark Esper affects exercises, deployments, redeployments and other global force management activities.

“Approximately 90,000 service members slated to deploy or redeploy over the next 60 days will likely be impacted by this stop movement order,” the Pentagon said.

Among exceptions are scheduled deployments and redeployments of U.S. Navy vessels and embarked units, provided they are in transit for 14 days and have met requirements associated with current force health protection guidance.

Hawaii-based Marine Corps helicopters and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft were flown to Pearl Harbor recently for staging ahead of an annual spring deployment to Australia known as Marine Rotational Force-Darwin involving 2,500 Marines.

“We have not received notification MRF-D is canceled and defer any additional questions about the status of the exercise to the (U.S.) embassy and the Australian government,” spokeswoman 1st Lt. Bridget Glynn said in an email.

About 1,440 Schofield soldiers are participating in the exercise Hanuman Guardian with the Royal Thai Army in Thailand. An opening ceremony was held Feb. 24.

The exercise was scheduled to conclude mid-May with Hawaii forces flowing back to Hawaii after that.

“I know that everyone is interested in what’s going on and what we are thinking on the duration of their exercise — and I will tell you that we are continuing to assess that,” 25th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard said during a Facebook “virtual town hall” briefing Wednesday.

Jarrard said there was no decision to curtail the exercise and bring home the soldiers early.

“The significance of that exercise is the fact that the United States will never, ever fight another war again by ourselves,” he said. “And next time that we do it will be with our allies and our close partners and that’s what we’re working to do over there.”

Having said that, “we understand that the situation is changing, the risk is increasing and we are continuing to have discussions about the level of risk,” Jarrard said.

He said commanders have been “very impressed” by the Royal Thai Army efforts to “help us mitigate the threat.”

Jarrard also said it’s not clear how the stop-movement order for overseas troops would impact the soldiers in Thailand.

About 150 Schofield soldiers assigned to the 40th Composite Supply Company are deployed to Iraq. They will remain on deployment and are not scheduled to return until late July or early August, the Army said.

Hawaii National Guard soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery Regiment held a deployment ceremony in March of 2019 for duty in Afghanistan, meanwhile.

About 350 of the citizen soldiers had a unique mission known as “counter-rocket, artillery, mortar,” or C-RAM for short, using a weapon system that shoots down incoming enemy rockets with a rapid-fire pulse of 20-mm rounds.

The Hawaii soldiers were operating at seven bases around the country. There’s now a bit of uncertainty there, too.

“The Hawaii Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery was scheduled to come home sometime this month from a nine-month-long deployment,” Jeff Hickman, director of public affairs for the state Defense Department, said in an email. “The recent overseas stop movement order, in response to COVID-19, may or may not impact the 1-487th from coming home on time.”

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