A soldier with the 25th Infantry Division assembles an M240 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, June 25, 2020, during preparation for the Lightning Forge exercise that runs through July 21.

A soldier with the 25th Infantry Division assembles an M240 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, June 25, 2020, during preparation for the Lightning Forge exercise that runs through July 21. (Michael Bradle/U.S. Army)

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FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Roughly 5,500 soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division will join the annual Lightning Forge exercise in Hawaii beginning Tuesday, the division’s first large-scale training since the coronavirus pandemic hit in the spring.

The exercise runs through July 21 and will be held in training areas across the island of Oahu, according to an Army statement on Friday.

The division began a gradual return to group training in early May as new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, began tapering off.

“During this time of COVID-19, and as our country continues a gradual return to normal, the need for the Army to maintain a mission-ready force is more important than ever,” Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, the division commander, said in the statement.

“Just as we approached the COVID-19 crisis, our approach to Exercise Lightning Forge will be transparent, thoughtful, and deliberate, with the health safety of our soldiers, families, and community our top priority,” he said.

As of Tuesday, Hawaii had 1,030 verified cases of the virus, with 19 deaths, according to the state Department of Health. Recent weeks have seen an increase in daily new cases, often in the double digits.

The state has gradually eased a stringent stay-at-home order issued in early April, but new cases in June were about six times higher than those in May.

In response, Kirk Caldwell, mayor of the city and county of Honolulu, on Thursday expanded a mandate requiring face masks be worn in all indoor public spaces — including workplaces that do not deal with the public — and in outdoors areas where physical distancing is not possible.

The Army has generally abided by county and state orders regarding the pandemic, but it remains undecided how, or if, the mask order will be implemented on Oahu’s two Army bases, Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter.

“Army leadership is reviewing the city and county requirements, but all personnel must follow the requirements when going off base,” Col. Tom Barrett, commander of Army Garrison Hawaii, said in a Facebook video Thursday.

The Lightning Forge training will focus on the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, with support personnel drawn from across the division.

About 150 infantry soldiers from the Royal Thai Army’s 3rd Infantry Division will join the exercise.

Training sites include Schofield Barracks, the East Range, Dillingham Army Airfield, the Kahuku Training Area and Basilan Drop Zone.

Lightning Forge prepares a brigade combat team each year for a training rotation at the U.S. Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La.

Two large-scale helicopter operations will be conducted near Dillingham Army Airfield on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Army has advised Oahu residents slow-moving military convoys could affect traffic flow. Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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Wyatt Olson is based in the Honolulu bureau, where he has reported on military and security issues in the Indo-Pacific since 2014. He was Stars and Stripes’ roving Pacific reporter from 2011-2013 while based in Tokyo. He was a freelance writer and journalism teacher in China from 2006-2009.

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