FORT BENNING, Ga. – Military retirees may continue to visit Fort Benning under its current COVID-19 travel restrictions, but only for medical, grocery shopping and similar "essential" errands, officials told a March 31 online town hall meeting live-streamed on Facebook.
Other errands deemed essential include those involving use of the post's postal, banking and laundry services, as well as its gas stations.
Those are among travel restrictions put in place by Fort Benning's top leader, Maj. Gen. Gary M. Brito, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, and Fort Benning and announced March 27.
Unit or large group activities, block parties, for example, are banned under the restrictions.
"This is about limiting social activities, limiting movement, and promoting social distance so we can stay ahead of the rapid growth of this virus, which you see locally, statewide, across the nation, and the world as well," Brito told the online audience.
Questions arose as to whether retirees were barred from Fort Benning, and Brito used the occasion of the town hall to make clear they remain welcome as always.
"What we have put out in the policy letter," Brito told the online audience, "it does not – I say again – it does not prohibit retirees from coming on post for essential activities.
"So for the retirees that live in our community," he said, "please do continue to come on post to use the hospital if you need to, or other medical facilities, the pharmacy, the bank, the post office, commissary and PX, and that's where we want you to limit your activities."
Under the restrictions, military personnel living on post may not leave the installation except "out of necessity," defined as "health care needs, grocery shopping, and essential postal, banking, laundry services and gas stations."
Military personnel living outside Fort Benning are allowed to travel only between their residence and Fort Benning, to perform their military or work duties, or out of "necessity," for the same "essential" errands permitted to those living on the post. They are also permitted to run those essential errands using at off-post facilities but only those closest to their homes.
Family members and civilian employees of the Army are "strongly encouraged" to adhere to the same precautions, officials here said.
"I fully understand and I get 100 percent, this is very disruptive to our lives, and it may very well be for another month or longer," Brito said during the town hall.
"I can't put a timeline on it and that's why I didn't publish when the policy would be rescinded," he said. "It's conditions-based. I'm in the fight with ya.
"But we need to get through this, protect all of our Soldiers that are here training, permanent party Soldiers as well, of all ranks, our families, and our civilians," Brito said.
Also during the live-stream, community members were called upon to be vigilant against the possible build-up of tensions that could lead to domestic violence.
Such trouble can sometimes erupt when families are in "these long-term, stay-at-home conditions," said Col. Matthew Scalia, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning.
"We do not want to get to that point," said Scalia. "So I beg all of you, please, take preventative measures."
Scalia said community members have several places they can turn to for confidential professional help with such pressures.
"So I'd like to highlight some of them for you," he told the online audience, "so you can contact them, please – early – and not too late."
Those sources include:
• The Family Advocacy Program: https://benning.armymwr.com/programs/army-community-services6
• Military OnceSource: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/
• Military and Family Life Counseling Program: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/confidential-help/non-medical-counseling/military-and-family-life-counseling
• The Family Life Chaplain: https://www.benning.army.mil/Garrison/Chaplains/Family-Life.html
"And please, everybody, these are confidential sources," said Scalia. "So don't hesitate, even your own unit chaplain is a great resource, and they're confidential. So please don't hesitate to seek help.
"Much rather you'd seek help early than the MPs have to knock on your door when there's domestic violence reported," Scalia said.
Also during the live-stream, the post's hospital commander said there is now a third COVID-19 hotline available to the community.
The Army Public Health Center's COVID-19 hotline number is 1-800-984-8523, said Col. Melissa J. Hoffman, commander of Martin Army Community Hospital here.
The hospital's COVID-19 hotline, available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at 762-408-2819.
In addition, a Nurse Advice hotline is available round-the-clock at 1-800-874-2273.
Hoffman said details on such things as current screening policies, appointments, pharmacy services, and numerous other matters are available on the hospital's Facebook paget: https://www.facebook.com/FortBenningMCoE/videos/699702124104056/.
The live-stream included a question-and-answer question in which Brito, Scalia and Hoffman answered questions sent in by community members.
A video of the full March 31 town hall can be viewed online at: https://www.facebook.com/FortBenningMCoE/videos/699702124104056/.
In addition, Fort Benning is maintaining a COVID-19 Forum page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BenningCOVID19forum/?source_id=265710996909724.
Scalia underscored earlier calls for adherence to social distancing and similar precautions, and for community patience and cooperation.
"Every exposure is an opportunity for the virus to spread," said Scalia. "Especially when we're talking about a social setting. Then it can spread to different work settings.
"I ask that you do the right thing personally by correcting your friends, and doing the right thing yourself. And for the leaders out there, remember, you have a responsibility to make on-the-spot corrections.
"Lastly," said Scalia, "please continue to show patience and cooperation with your family, your neighbors, your gate guards, your employees and one another."
Brito, noting in closing remarks that "We have a long road ahead," said the community would "get through" the crisis through "patience and understanding."
"But we have to do it as a team," he said. "No individuals here. No 'me,' just a bunch of 'we.'"
Key updates and other information about Fort Benning's COVID-19 measures are also available on MCoE's official Army website, at: https://www.benning.army.mil/.