JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –Select soldiers in training at the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence (MEDCoE) will resume off-post privileges, comparable to those in place prior to the pandemic, in time for Memorial Day Weekend. Effective Saturday, May 29, 2021, MEDCoE Advanced Individual Training (AIT) students in phase five and five plus and prior service trainees may request daily passes in the local San Antonio area over the long weekend, May 29-31.
As part of COVID-19 mitigation measures, there are several caveats:
· The local area is defined as inside the 1604 Loop; Sea World and Fiesta Six Flags are authorized.
· Both vaccinated and unvaccinated Soldiers may request a “day pass” from their assigned unit; approval authority has been delegated to the company commander level.
· Soldiers who have not completed a full COVID-19 vaccine series, plus two weeks, are required to wear masks on and off-post at all times; exceptions include while eating or actively exercising.
· Bars and clubs are off-limits; current drinking restrictions typical with Soldiers in training remain in effect.
· Soldiers may request day passes for Saturday between 12 pm and 6 pm, Sunday between 8 am and 6 pm, and Memorial Day (Monday) between 12 pm and 6 pm.
· Soldiers will not be approved for overnight passes.
Soldiers have been limited to post, and sequestered in the training environment to minimize the risk of transmission, since March 2020 in response to increasing Health Protection Conditions on Joint Base San Antonio at the time. Citing low transmission rates currently within the command and the local area, Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, Commanding General, MEDCoE, says he is confident that Soldiers will continue to follow good COVID-19 risk mitigation measures as restrictions begin to loosen.
“Our personnel have proven that they know the right things to do to keep themselves, each other and our communities safe,” LeMaster said. In December, during Holiday Block Leave, Soldiers were permitted to take holiday leave, and there were no major COVID-19 incidents. He is confident that, through engaged leadership and Soldier professionalism, trainees will demonstrate the same commitment to preventing contraction or spread of the virus.
“I am so proud of our team,” LeMaster continued. He said leaders, drill sergeants and other cadre always reinforce what it means to live the Army values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage, on and off duty. In preparation for this milestone, however, MEDCoE will place added emphasis on the command’s expectation to maintain the highest standards of professional ethics while on and off post. “This situation is no different from Holiday Block Leave,” he explained. “Our Soldiers know exactly what to do and I am confident they will do the right things, even when no one is looking.”
If all goes well over the Memorial Day weekend, Soldiers can expect more allowances, like recurring weekend passes in the local area. Conversely, if there is a spike in cases, restrictions will resume. “We will monitor this population closely through screening, surveillance, and antigen testing,” LeMaster said. He also expects Soldiers to self-monitor and report any signs and symptoms of COVID. If MEDCoE cases continue to decline, he also expects to restore family visits and family and friend attendance at AIT graduations.
“We are working closely with our JBSA partners to make a plan that will allow moms, dads and families to have a chance to visit their trainees and attend graduations very soon,” LeMaster said. He admits to being as excited as the families to open graduations up to community attendees for the first time in a year. “As JBSA begins to open its doors, it will truly feel like we are getting back to normal.”
MEDCoE plans to host an open graduation pilot ceremony as early as mid-June. LeMaster said there is risk in allowing people from across America to have contact with Soldiers while there is still some risk of infection. The pilot will include measures meant to ensure Soldier readiness and will be announced in advance of the pilot graduation. If all goes well, expect most graduations to resume by mid-July.
“Though we are still war gaming our graduation and family visit plan,” LeMaster said, “I encourage everyone to get the shot; citizens who are fully vaccinated will likely have more access than those who are not.”
He said it is all about protecting the force. MEDCoE’s mission of ensuring Army Medicine Soldiers are trained and prepared to serve in various Army medicine military occupational specialties is vital to force readiness and the Total Army. Many of these Soldiers, following training, will be assigned duties in direct support of national response efforts or to fill other critical medical positions across the Army.
Soldiers are not required to get the COVID vaccine. All trainees and DoD personnel are offered the COVID vaccine, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to protect against contracting and spreading COVID. Locally, Brooke Army Medical Center’s Fort Sam Houston Vaccination Site offers same-day appointments and walk-in hours for beneficiaries 12 years old and older. Those eligible should visit Tricare.com or call 210-916-9900 to book an appointment or for more information.
The symbolism of easing restrictions in time for Memorial Day is not lost on LeMaster, who has been in command since January 2020. “As a Nation we lost too many to COVID, between last year and this year,” LeMaster said. Memorial Day is a time for solemn remembrance of the valiant men and women who gave everything in support of their country. This Memorial Day, LeMaster also urges everyone to take a moment to reflect on the hundreds of thousands of Americans who were lost during the pandemic. “As we celebrate the freedoms that we get to enjoy, let’s honor the memory of our fallen and their families by staying committed to the Army COVID fight.”
For more information about the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, visit https://medcoe.army.mil.