Basic Combat Training recent graduates are screened for COVID-19 upon arrival to Fort Lee, Va., on March 31, 2010.

Basic Combat Training recent graduates are screened for COVID-19 upon arrival to Fort Lee, Va., on March 31, 2010. (Crista Mary Mack/U.S. Army)

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WASHINGTON — The Army on Monday said it will send new recruits to basic training this week, ending a two-week pause in shipping future soldiers that was aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.

Recruits from areas of the country considered low-risk for the virus will be sent in the coming days to all four of the Army’s basic training locations, Army officials announced in a statement. The end of the rare pause in sending recruits to basic training comes as the Army has improved its testing capacity for the virus at most of its installations, including at Fort Jackson, S.C., the training-heavy post that is the site of the service’s worst coronavirus outbreak.

The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, which oversees all of the service’s initial entry and more advanced training programs, made the call to begin shipping recruits Monday once they were certain appropriate measures were in place to track recruits health from the time they leave their homes until they arrive at the Army’s basic training locations — Fort Jackson, Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Sill, Okla.

Outside of Fort Jackson, the training bases have not reported widespread outbreaks of the disease, which has paralyzed much of American life, including forcing the Pentagon to severely restrict travel for its troops worldwide. Sending new recruits to the services’ basic training locations, however, is exempt from the wide-ranging travel restrictions in place until June 30. The Defense Department considers training new troops essential to its mission.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said last week that Fort Jackson had reported about 50 cases of the virus within its basic training program. The secretary said the installations had managed the spread of the disease, which did not appear to be widening last week.

Those cases were among 819 soldiers who the Army reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus through Monday morning.

The service will ship significantly fewer recruits than it typically would in the coming weeks. Normally, April and May have among the smallest number of recruits shipping per month just before high school and college graduations. It would be more problematic for the service if the pandemic stretches into the summer, as June, July and August are traditionally the service’s busiest months for sending new recruits to basic training, Army officials said.

Among the measures put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus among new recruits, the Army is screening future soldiers 15 days before they ship and again 72 and 24 hours before shipping. The screening includes temperature checks and a questionnaire aimed at determining potential exposure to the virus.

Recruits are screened again when they arrive at a military entrance processing center and once more when they arrive at their basic training location, the Army said.

Recruit classes are isolated together for the first two weeks of basic training, which will incorporate most of the required classroom work, the Army said. The service, when possible, will follow health guidelines to minimize the spread of the virus, including social distancing and the use of face coverings.

While the Army halted sending recruits to basic training, it never stopped training people who were already in initial entrance training programs. The Army plans to continue sending soldiers to advanced, job-specific training after they complete basic training and then on to their first duty stations, an official said Monday. Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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