More Military Reservists Face Drill Cancellations Due to Coronavirus

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A Marine Corps squad participates in a field exercise at Camp Villere, Slidell, Louisiana.
A Marine Corps squad participates in a field exercise at Camp Villere, Slidell, Louisiana, March 11, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Colby Bundy)

Military reservists are facing widespread disruptions in training routines as multiple branches cancel weekend drills and other events that aren't considered mission-critical.

The Navy and Marine Corps are halting most routine weekend training for Reserve units due to the highly contagious coronavirus, named COVID-19. The Navy announced the move on Sunday and the Marine Corps on Monday.

"While we are tough and resilient as an organization and as individuals, we are also prudent as we assess the risks," Lt. Gen. David Bellon, head of Marine Forces Reserve, said in a Monday statement.

"We overcome obstacles and we win battles," he added. "Our latest challenge with COVID-19 will be no different."

Related: Military Update: Coronavirus Cancellations and Closures

Training that's not considered essential will halt until further notice, Bellon said. The Navy has postponed all regular drill weekends until May 11, Vice Adm. Luke McCollum, chief of Navy Reserve, said on Sunday. Other services are considering cancellations at the local unit level.

McCollum has also directed reservists' annual training waivers to be "liberally approved" due to the coronavirus. The waivers could help prevent reservists from missing out the points earned that are used to calculate retirement pay.

Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, the Air Force Reserve's chief, said in a Monday video to his force that commanders have the authority to make safe and flexible decisions about training.

"Now more than ever," he said, "I need commanders to command. I ask those leaders to lean forward, while erring on the side of caution."

Army Reserve officials referred Military.com's questions about whether that service would cancel any training to U.S. Northern Command, which oversees all military operations in North America. That command referred questions back to the Army, which did not immediately clarify whether reservists' drills or other training will be postponed.

The Defense Department issued sweeping travel restrictions for all active-duty and Reserve personnel on Friday. Personnel are encouraged to check in with their commands with any question about training changes or disruptions.

A Marine Forces Reserve official said some training that is mission-essential will continue, such as that for joint terminal attack controllers, pilots or aviation maintenance crews. It's vital for Marines in those types of fields to maintain their proficiency and qualifications, the official added.

Others with mission-critical travel, including those slated to deploy, will still be required to report for duty, the official said. Overall though, the goal is to reduce manning and travel across the Marine Corps Reserve, Bellon said.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify how waivers can be used.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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