Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division and Royal Thai Army mix during the Lightning Forge exercise in Hawaii, July 12, 2020.

Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division and Royal Thai Army mix during the Lightning Forge exercise in Hawaii, July 12, 2020. (Royal Thai Army)

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FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Eight Thai soldiers who participated in a large Army exercise in Hawaii this month tested positive for the coronavirus after returning home last week, according to media reports.

The infected individuals were among a company of 133 Thai Royal soldiers who participated in the Lightning Forge exercise on Oahu that ran July 7-21.

About 5,500 soldiers with the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division participated in the exercise, which was the division’s first large-scale training since the coronavirus pandemic hit in the spring.

A 25th Infantry Division spokesman on Tuesday declined to say whether any U.S. soldiers involved in the training had tested positive, citing Defense Department policy.

Hawaii had 1,757 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Tuesday — the majority on Oahu — with 26 deaths.

The Bangkok Post newspaper reported Tuesday that the Thai government confirmed that two soldiers, ages 22 and 25, were hospitalized for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus. The pair began showing symptoms on Friday, with the younger soldier having a fever, breathing difficulties and diarrhea, while the other soldier developed a cough, the newspaper said.

The government had earlier confirmed six other soldiers had tested positive for the virus after returning to Thailand on July 22, according to the report. All the infected soldiers had been on the same flight home from Hawaii.

The entire company of soldiers had been placed in a state-run quarantine facility upon their return, the newspaper said.

“We understand that reports of possible COVID-19 cases in Hawaii are concerning, and in accordance with Defense Department policy, we continue to share all available information within Hawaii public health channels to ensure the local community remains safe and any appropriate measures are taken to reduce the spread,” Lt. Col. Adam Hallmark, a 25th Infantry Division spokesman, said in a statement emailed Tuesday to Stars and Stripes.

The day before the exercise was to end on July 21, however, another division spokesperson told Stars and Stripes that no soldier had at that time tested positive for the virus.

On Tuesday, Hallmark said: “We are evaluating the force health protection measures that were put in place during Lightning Forge and have implemented contact tracing and increased testing among our soldiers to help determine the overall health assessment of our forces following the exercise.

“We are committed to determining the facts and improving our processes to ensure the safety all participants in any future training exercise,” he said.

The outbreak of COVID-19 during joint training apparently will not slow down future engagements.

“Our need to maintain a mission-ready force remains more important than ever and we cannot afford to simply wait for COVID-19 to go away,” Hallmark said. “Part of the demand for maintaining mission readiness requires training with our partners and allies. Thailand is a key partner and our most enduring ally in Asia. Our broad cooperation benefits both our countries, the region, and beyond.” 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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