Thousands of Marines are in Yuma, Arizona, for a seven-week air and ground integration training that the top Marine has deemed mission essential despite the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus.

The air and ground coordination training officially kicked off March 8 and is slated to run through April 26. But the conclusion of training falls in the middle of a Defense Department domestic travel ban implemented March 16 to stem the tide of COVID-19.

Lt. Adara Story, a spokeswoman for Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One, told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement that the training had been deemed “mission essential training” by Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, “and will continue as planned.”

Marines will return to their home bases following the course Story said, despite a DoD domestic travel ban that runs to May 11.

The training exercise known as Weapons and Tactics Instructor course is supported by nearly 4,000 Marines with each Marine Air Wing and Marine Expeditionary Force providing support, according Story.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment regarding the large-scale exercise.

Governors from states like California, Illinois and Massachusetts, among others, have implemented stringent guidelines to include restrictions on restaurants and bars to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are 18 reported cases of COVID-19 in Arizona as of March 18.

“We are working on multiple fronts to address the impact of COVID-19 on Arizona, from providing additional testing through private sector partners, to protecting our elderly and most vulnerable, to ensuring our hospitals are prepared to meet increased demand. The situation is constantly evolving, and we are focused on this 24/7," Ducey said March 16 following a White House briefing discussing new guidelines and social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

However, Arizona has not implemented more stringent measures seen in other states such as restrictions on bars, restaurants, state parks and museums as other states have, according to the Arizona Republic.

Pentagon officials on March 13 announced a total domestic travel ban for all troops, civilian personnel and their families until May 11 in an effort to limit their potential exposure to the coronavirus.

In addition, troops will be granted “only authorized local leave” for the duration of the travel restrictions, limiting their ability to visit family and friends in far away states.

“The continuing spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) necessitates immediate implementation of travel restrictions for domestic Department of Defense travel,” the memo announcing the new travel rules stated.

“These restrictions are necessary to preserve force readiness, limit the continuing spread of the virus, and preserve the health and welfare of service members, DoD civilian employees, their families and the local communities where in which we live," the memo reads.

The Marine Corps has canceled a number of training evolutions and air shows over COVID-19 to include monthly drills for non-essential personnel in the reserves and the air show at Cherry Point, North Carolina.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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