How do you social distance in formation, on submarines, and in tanks? You don't

Elizabeth Howe
March 24, 2020 - 11:51 am


Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was again asked to answer questions regarding why military personnel at installations across the country were still holding formations, PT, and training operations despite social distancing guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

His answer was the same as it has been every time in the past weeks.

"You can't get social distancing on a submarine or even in a tank. I've been in both," Esper said during a global virtual Department of Defense town hall on Tuesday. "Take prudent measures as best you can given the situation you're in, given your mission and whatnot. That's what we call upon commanders and senior NCOs at all levels to do."

The town hall was held to provide answers to the Department of Defense community across the globe — the number of individuals around the world attempting to view the livestream of the event repeatedly crashed both the Facebook live stream and the stream broadcasted on the Department of Defense website. 

While Esper has been asked repeatedly by members of the media why formations specifically are still being held, this time the question came directly from a member of the Department of Defense community. His answer remained the same. 

He advised commanders to hold meetings outside or in smaller groups in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But again, he voiced his trust in the judgment of commanders to best implement the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control guidance. 

This directive is not trickling down to the installation level. 

Military personnel from installations across the globe reached out to Army Times through a solicited call for conditions reports. At all of these installations, daily operations, PT formations, close-quarters training has gone on uninterrupted with no moves to implement CDC guidance. Service members exhibiting symptoms are being turned away for testing — back into the field with countless other soldiers. 

Esper said in a press briefing on Monday that he is aware of these inconsistencies. 

"It's unique by the type of unit. It's unique by the mission. It's unique by the location and any other number of factors," Esper said. "Now, in other cases where we could clearly have done better, we clearly could have done better, and we will continue to work to do better. But again, I have to trust our commanders and our senior NCOs are taking all the right precautions."

As of Tuesday morning, the Department of Defense had 321 confirmed cases of COVID-19 including 174 active duty service members — an increase of 47 overnight. 

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