FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — In the face of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, with confirmed cases on every military installation, Army leaders have taken decisive action aimed at preserving individual soldier readiness and mission focus by declaring public health emergencies, triggering mandatory health-protection directives which local unit-level senior leaders have implemented by disregarding them entirely.
According to anonymous sources within the command staffs of multiple high-level headquarters elements, unit leaders have adopted the viewpoint that due to the mission-essential status of literally every soldier assigned to every unit everywhere (and the field-grade approval authority level for waiving reporting restrictions imposed by higher-level commands), the across-the-board mandates implemented by top installation and major Army commanders do not, in fact, apply to their units or any soldiers assigned to those units.
“The way we’re meeting the commander’s intent while still maintaining a mission and organizational focus is to ensure that our command teams are briefing the individual soldiers on current HPCON (health-protection condition) levels and ensuring that they are given the point of contact for local public health and nurse advice lines, but that they are not to actually call those numbers unless referred there by a primary care provider,” said one anonymous battalion commander with the 1st Cavalry Division.
When asked whether the providers were referring any soldiers for testing, or even seeing any soldiers at all given the current conditions, the official declined to answer other than to maintain that sick-call referrals by company-level medics would continue to be the primary gating mechanism. He did mention in passing that line medics had been instructed not to refer any soldiers to the providers for COVID-19 related concerns.
Soldiers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, who had used the commander’s open-door policy in the face of what they perceived as stonewalling by their leadership were reportedly told to “Stop being such a whiny little hypochondriac” and sent back to their units, whereupon they were formally counseled by their NCOs.
Meanwhile, according to sources familiar with the process, soldiers who actually call published nurse advice lines without first obtaining command approval, are tested at their local military treatment facility, and are subsequently placed under quarantine order pending test results will be subject to punitive action under Article 15 for circumventing the chain of command in violation of a general order. On the other hand, soldiers who are denied approval for testing but are subsequently found by other means to be positive for COVID-19 will be referred for general court-martial for exposing fellow soldiers to a contagious pathogen.
Sources at multiple Army installations reported having received similar guidance.
“From a mission standpoint, it’s simpler and more efficient for the command teams to nurture the impression among the soldiers that they'll be punished no matter what they do, which is essentially the case," the anonymous commander said. “It fosters a useful sort of paralysis of inaction on the part of the subordinates, and from a leader's perspective, it prevents the delivery to that leader of any information which might have to be acted upon."
Other anonymous senior leaders shared the sentiments.
“Past lessons learned have shown that if a needed decision is postponed long enough, or if the command climate orients in such a way as to not acknowledge the conditions which necessitated the decision, then things will eventually change or the problem will go away altogether. So, there’s really no need to require our leaders to make any decisions which could potentially result in a less-than-positive performance evaluation," said one unidentified command sergeant major. "Our soldiers know to always place the mission first; any individual who insists on tending to his or her own personal health concerns at the expense of the big picture, frankly, isn’t the sort of team player we want in our ranks anyway.”
"And besides," the sergeant major added, "our troop clinic is fully stocked with bottled water and Motrin in case things start to get bad."
At press time, multiple soldiers had tested positive for COVID-19 at Fort Sam Houston after continuing to perform routine weekly command maintenance on equipment that has not functioned properly in over a decade.