Pentagon guidance curbing the release of COVID-19 cases by installations hasn’t impacted the sharing of that data domestically and with host nations in Europe and South Korea.
In late March, the defense secretary ordered base commanders worldwide to stop publicly announcing new COVID-19 cases among their personnel, citing a risk that adversaries could exploit the information.
Army Installation Management Command said that they are following that guidance, but are still allowed to share with local officials.
“Those numbers are being shared with the host nation, with their communities,” said Lt. Gen. Doug Gabram, the general in charge of the command, during a telephone call with reporters this week. “CONUS locations are also doing the same thing.”
Case numbers are provided to public health authorities in the United States for aggregate tracking in communities. Overseas, installations also provide the numbers based on requirements laid out in status of forces agreements.
“We got the same problem. How do we control the spread? We don’t want it on our installations or in their communities so we have to work together,” Gabram added. "And we’re going to be even stronger if there is a wave two of this.”
Military bases aren’t isolated islands in the middle of host nations, he said. Not only do service members often live in off-post residences, but local nationals are often hired at on-post facilities. Many restrictions put in place by host nations have also impacted U.S. troops based there.
The crisis has tied installations closer to the local communities they’re housed in, according to Gabram. U.S. and South Korea officials, for instance, have championed their close partnership throughout the pandemic.
Soldiers from U.S. camps near the hard-hit South Korean city of Daegu joined with Republic of Korea soldiers to sanitize public areas during the peak of the virus’ spread. U.S. Army Europe has also used its Italian garrison to donate supplies to the northern Lombardy region of Italy.
Even before U.S.-based commissaries began enforcing masks for shoppers, the U.S. garrison at Caserma Ederle, Italy, began enforcing mask guidlines to comply with Italian rules.
Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have been used to ensure shoppers are remaining three feet away from each other during visits to the commissaries there.
But there’s also been some friction in the relationships.
Maj. Gen. Chris Mohan, who leads the 21st Theater Sustainment Command in Kaiserslautern, Germany, warned in early April that violating host nation rules could end in hefty fines and UCMJ action after four soldiers were fined more than 100 euros for violating local social distancing restrictions.
“Let me be perfectly clear, the Polizei is going to be out in force,” Mohan said April 3. “They’re going to start levying heavy fines."
“And oh, by the way, they’re going to give us the names of those they catch off the installation,” Mohan added. "I will use every tool I have in the Uniform Code of Military Justice or administrative action to enforce these guidlines.”
Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.