A company of Marine recruits took their places among the storied yellow footprints at San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Monday to begin their training, after more than two weeks of quarantine at a local hotel.
This step marks a milestone in the Corps’ efforts to continue training in an altered COVID-19 environment, officials said.
The Marines started sending new companies of recruits into quarantine with the arrival of Echo Company to San Diego on April 13, after the coronavirus began spreading among the previous company to arrive — Bravo Company — the week before.
While cases among the recruits of the 237-man Bravo Company surged, the Marines are seeing far fewer cases among the recruits of Echo. The Marines, following a Pentagon order, are not disclosing actual numbers of infections among its recruits, but a depot spokesman said about a handful from Echo Company tested positive Friday. None has symptoms.
“They tested positive on Friday and were moved into isolation on MCRD,” said Capt. Martin Harris, a depot spokesman.
Because the recruits of Echo Company were quarantined in hotel rooms in pairs, fewer than a dozen will potentially be held back from beginning training whether they tested positive or had a roommate who did. Harris said 254 recruits made the transition from quarantine to the depot Monday.
In late February, Brig. Gen. Pete Fesler prepared about 130 troops under his command to mobilize for a new mission, one that would take them away from their families and involve extensive precautions to keep service members safe.
Tapping his experience from deployments in Asia and the Middle East, the former fighter pilot made plans for adapting the unit’s sensitive mission to new hazards over an unknown period of time, as authorities scrambled to anticipate the moves of an unpredictable adversary.
The difference from his previous assignments: At the end of the day, instead of being halfway around the world, Fesler can look out from the base where he’s lodging and see the neighborhood where his wife and kids are hunkered down during the coronavirus pandemic.
The general is a senior commander at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he heads a team that is attempting to sequester itself to ensure that covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can’t cripple NORAD’s command center, responsible for preventing the United States from coming under attack from foreign missiles or other aerial threats.
His is one of a number of U.S.-based units taking dramatic steps that officials hope will prevent the highly contagious disease from ravaging teams of specially trained personnel.