Hawaii-Based Soldiers Start Returning from Thailand Under COVID-19 Monitoring

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U.S. soldiers conduct joint training during Hanuman Guardian 20.
Soldiers of the Scouts Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, conducted a joint training with the Royal Thai Army during Hanuman Guardian 20 on March 5, 2020. (Army photo by 2nd Lt. Robert King)

Hawaii military members returning from deployment used to be met by swarming families, balloons and hugs. Now, it's medical screening including temperature checks, social distancing, quarantine and at-home check-ups.

About 350 Schofield Barracks soldiers are returning Tuesday on two charter flights from abbreviated training in Thailand. Approximately 1,000 more are expected back later in the week.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand reported that, as of Saturday, the country of nearly 70 million had 2,518 COVID-19 infections; 1,135 were "cured;" 1,348 were in hospitals; and 35 had died.

"We are conducting a very deliberate process to ensure that we are responsible for the health and safety not just of the soldiers and families, but also the Hawaii community," said Col. Derrick Cheng, a spokesman for U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter. "We're going through a very deliberate process with medical screening prior to the soldiers departing Thailand and upon their arrival and then active monitoring while they are in 14-day quarantine."

Cheng added that "to date, there have been no positive tests or reported cases of COVID-19 among the soldiers."

All soldiers are being screened for any symptoms of COVID-19 prior to leaving Thailand and are already practicing social distancing. The returning soldiers are flying into Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and are being met by medical providers at Hickam Field, Cheng said. At Hickam, they will have their temperatures checked and have to fill out a health questionnaire before boarding buses to Schofield, he said.

An Army-produced news story said soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, and counterparts from the Royal Thai Army officially started Exercise Hanuman Guardian 20 at an opening ceremony Feb. 24 at Camp Friendship in Korat, Thailand.

U.S. participation included the Schofield soldiers and approximately 700 Thai personnel. Training events were to include a military decision-making process exercise, a platoon-and company-level field training exercise, and a live-fire exercise.

It was part of the first stop of Pacific Pathways 2020, an Army approach to bulking up forces for months at a time in the region with a persistent but not permanent footprint that follows the "places, not bases" mantra of the Pentagon.

The group, mainly made up of 3rd Brigade soldiers including the 2nd Battalion, 35th Regiment, was originally expected back in Hawaii toward the end of May.

"All returning soldiers will be quarantined in barracks or their own homes, consistent with state quarantine regulations," Cheng said. "We will be actively monitoring all soldiers during their 14-day quarantine with phone calls from Army medical providers. Any soldier with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will be evaluated and receive testing the same day. Any soldier with symptoms will be isolated pending results of the testing."

Equipment is still being cleaned and loaded in Thailand, and that process is scheduled to take several days, Cheng said.

Meanwhile, about 350 Hawaii National Guard soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan are at Fort Bliss, Texas, going through demobilization and self-quarantine after completing their mission in the country.

The soldiers from the 1-487th Field Artillery had a unique mission known as "counter-rocket, artillery, mortar," or C-RAM, using a weapon system that shoots down incoming enemy rockets with a rapid-fire pulse of 20-mm rounds.

The Hawaii soldiers were operating at seven bases around the country. They are expected back home mid-month and will have to self-quarantine for another 14 days in Hawaii.

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This article was written by William Cole from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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