Army officials at Fort Benning, Georgia have gotten serious about enforcing COVID-19 restrictions by handing down punishments under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and administrative discipline to more than 60 soldiers, posting some of those actions on social media.
The most recent violation of Benning's COVID-19 restrictions occurred Aug. 24, when a second lieutenant received a general officer memorandum of reprimand for "wrongfully traveling to Petersburg, Virginia," according to a Force Health Protection UCMJ Summary posted on the Facebook page for Maneuver Center of Excellence.
"We remind all soldiers assigned to Fort Benning that a violation of General Order #5 could result in UCMJ or administrative adverse action," the post states.
That order lays out a series of restrictions, ranging from standard COVID-19 guidelines such as wearing masks and observing social distancing, to limiting personal travel according to a July 17 memo posted on the post's Maneuver Center of Excellence Facebook page. Travel restrictions dictate troops must stay within 150 miles of Benning, but can get approved for travel up to 250 miles at the brigade command level.
Benning began posting these UCMJ summaries of unnamed soldiers in late August. Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe assumed command of MCOE and Benning July 17, and established General Order #5 soon after.
Donahoe also tweeted about the latest summary on Tuesday.
"Team let's think through our actions during the upcoming long weekend. I hate signing these things," Donahoe tweeted. "Do the right thing."
More than 60 Benning soldiers have received UCMJ punishment "or adverse administrative actions" for violating COVID-19 rules since March, he said in a statement to Military.com.
"Personnel who violate the general order are subject to UCMJ or adverse administrative action, and we are publicizing a few of these actions to ensure our soldiers understand that there are consequences to violating the orders," he said. "This information is meant to deter others from poor judgement and behavior. We chose the timing as a deterrence to bad behavior and poor decision-making over the Labor Day weekend. We're trying to prevent a mid-September spike. We are serious about mitigating the spread of COVID-19."
Donahoe set a strong tone regarding the importance of the COVID-19 restrictions during a July 22 speech he made after taking command.
"Our mission here on Fort Benning is too valuable to the Army to let that slip away," Donahoe said in a July 22 Army news release. "So, what we do every day, is we build the next generation of leaders. We build the next rifleman, the next tank crews, the next scouts, that are gonna go out to the Army.
"And that's an incredible task that the Army's chartered us with doing. ... And the only way we can do that is by remaining a healthy force to do that with."
Donahoe also said he understands that following strict COVID-19 restrictions can be stressful, describing his previous assignment with U.S. Forces Korea.
"I didn't leave that installation from the 6th of February to the 6th of June," Donahoe, said in the release. "So, I understand how we can get a little stir crazy and we want to get out."
Benning has posted the UCMJ punishments of five other soldiers found to have violated COVID-19 orders.
- On May 1, a private first class received a Field-Grade Article 15 for wrongfully failing to obey curfew hours of 10 p.m. to 5a.m. and was punished with reduction to E2, forfeiture of $971 in pay, 45 days extra duty and 45 days restriction. The reduction and forfeiture were suspended.
- On June 6, another second lieutenant received a general officer memo of reprimand for traveling to Auburn, Alabama to drink at a bar.
- On June 13, a staff sergeant received a field-grade Article 15 administrative punishment for wrongfully traveling to a prohibited place, and received a reduction in rank to E-5, 45 days extra duty and an oral reprimand.
- On June 28, a sergeant received a company-grade Article 15 for traveling off post for nonessential activities, and was punished with forfeiture of $674 in pay.
- On Aug. 3, a staff sergeant received a company-grade Article 15 for traveling outside of the mileage radius and was punished with forfeiture of $879 in pay and seven days’ extra duty.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Gen. Donahoe's name.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.