Pentagon travel ban extends to US personnel, families in much of Europe

Airmen and their families board an airplane for a permanent change of station in this undated file photo.


By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 12, 2020

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — New Pentagon travel restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the United States could affect up to 70,000 military and civilian personnel in Europe.

The 60-day travel restriction, which takes effect Friday, applies to locations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deems Level 3 risks because of widespread sustained transmission of the virus.

Germany and 28 other European countries were added to the Level 3 list of countries after Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered the travel ban. The restriction bars all forms of travel, including permanent changes of station, temporary duty and government-funded leave, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Esper’s order at first applied only to the countries hit hardest by the virus — China, Italy, Iran and South Korea, which the CDC had already advised against traveling to.

But the agency moved much of Europe to Level 3 after Esper’s order. The list now includes countries where thousands of U.S. personnel are assigned, deployed and vacation, including France, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Monaco, Portugal, Sweden, Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece, Malta, Iceland, Luxembourg, Finland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In Europe, U.S. military officials were working through the guidance Thursday to determine how it will affect personnel and their families living and working in the high-risk countries.

U.S. European Command is following Pentagon, State Department, CDC and host nation guidance, said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Hontz, a command spokesman. More detailed guidance would soon be issued, Hontz said.

“The health and welfare of our force is our No. 1 priority,” he said — that and that everyone in EUCOM stays informed.

At a town hall on Spangdahlem on Thursday, air base leaders addressed concerns about the virus from personnel on the installation, including about the travel restrictions.

Some issues still had to be sorted out, said Col. David Epperson, the 52nd Fighter Wing commander, such as whether personnel could travel within the restricted countries.

Travel outside of Europe, including for leave that’s already been approved and near-term PCS moves, however, appears “to be off the table right now,” he said during the live-streamed event posted to the wing’s Facebook page.

“For me, it’s very clear guidance from the Secretary of Defense — we are not supposed to travel,” Epperson said.

Service secretaries and commanders may issue waivers to the policy “as they determine necessary to ensure mission readiness and address specific cases,” the Pentagon said. That language that could leave room for emergency leave.

Late Wednesday, the State Department issued an advisory telling Americans to “reconsider travel” to all countries because of the global effect of the virus. The department noted that many areas were taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions.

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