On May 11, 2020, media reported that Admiral Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Navy, will be quarantined for one week after coming into a contact with a relative who has COVID-19. The same report also indicated that the commanding general of the National Guard Bureau in the U.S. Air Force has tested positive for COVID-19.
These reports are yet another example of the indiscriminate nature of the pandemic. The U.S. Navy already faced previous challenges in addressing the case of Captain Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, who was dismissed from his post after his memo warning about the serious impact of the spread of COVID-19 on the ship’s crew was leaked to the news media. Taken together, such incidents signal the challenges that all militaries face as the world muddles through the public health emergency triggered by COVID-19.
In the face of the pandemic, militaries need to engage in a two-front battle by default. On the one hand, their operations and operational circumstances make it extremely difficult for the military to contain the spread of highly contagious diseases. Operations are executed as a group; personnel usually live within close proximity, often under circumstances where “social distancing” is not only infeasible but often impossible. On the other hand, militaries (and national guards in the case of the United States) are often called upon as the first responders to these emergencies, while they are also expected to sustain their level of readiness to respond to a national security crisis.
Read the full op-ed in The Diplomat.