Amid pandemic, Navy slowly puts sailors on the move again
By MATT SOERGEL | The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville | Published: June 20, 2020
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(Tribune News Service) — As the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, the Navy froze almost all change-of-station moves, leaving some 42,000 sailors in limbo, unable to move on to their next duty station.
That began changing a week ago, as the Navy eased into a plan to once again allow moves to new bases, both in the U.S. and internationally.
Rear Adm. Dennis Velez said it's a complex scheme designed for the safety of sailors and their families.
"We're going to go through this backlog over the next several months," he said. "We're working with families, we're asking commanders to really talk to the sailors to find out what the situation is."
He said not every sailor previously scheduled to move will be changing stations, at least not for a while.
Priority will be given to those moving to ships and aircraft that are getting ready to deploy, as well as those assigned to what are deemed critical jobs, Velez said.
In addition, the Department of Defense has designated states or regions red or green, depending on the rate of coronavirus infections in the area.
Green means go, so if a sailor is moving from one green or another, the transfer is relatively simple.
Red means caution, so if an area is deemed red, there's more involved.
"It doesn't mean there are zero moves, it just means it's not automatic," Velez said. "Because it's red they'll have to go through the process of identifying the risk."
That means base commanders are charged with looking at each move on a case-by-case basis, he said, making safety a priority. In some cases it may mean that a sailor makes a move, but his or her family stays behind for a while.
"If a sailor doesn't want to move family, we're allowing them now to leave their family in place with no questions," he said. "It's commanders, it's senior enlisted leaders, having a discussion with every sailor. Every case is different, it's not one size fits all."
Those considerations will also play into whether sailors can take leave, depending on their destination and travel plans.
"If someone has to go to a red zone and there's a spike (in COVID-19), they should be able to go with the right health measures in place. Maybe when they get back, they will isolate for two weeks," Velez said.
Also in response to the virus, the Navy has shifted conferences to online, and most will stay that way, to avoid exposing sailors to crowded rooms.
Recruiting also shifted largely online during the pandemic, Velez said, though recruiting stations are now partially reopening with Centers for Disease Control guidelines in place – masks, distancing, cleaning stations.
Those same guidelines apply at Navy installations and ships, with masks required when it's not practical for people indoors to stay six feet from each other, he said.
Navy recruiters took a two-week pause after the virus struck to put safety measures in place and to contract with hotels near the Great Lakes boot camp. Recruits now have a 14-day isolation period at hotels before starting training. They're lodged with other recruits, with distancing measures in place, Velez said.
"They get a two-week acclimation period before boot camp starts for real," he said.
Once out of boot camp, many sailors rotate to a new base every two to three years, Velez said. As for him, he's moved 18 times in 28 years.
"I do get itchy when I stay in one place more than two or three years," he said. "The experience of seeing something new, meeting new people – that's one of the perks of being in the military, the Navy."
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