SIERRA VISTA — Where soldiers can travel, who can visit their homes and what they’re not allowed to divulge regarding COVID-19 are among some of the new, more stringent restrictions issued earlier this week on Fort Huachuca by the top commander.
Some of the rules will affect civilians who work on Fort Huachuca as well, whether or not they live at the installation.
In her sweeping order put out Tuesday afternoon, Major General Laura Potter, stated that the restrictions — meant only for service members on and off the post — are necessary in order to fight the rapid spread of coronavirus.
“Due to the spread of the COVID-19 disease, aggressive prevention and mitigation measures are necessary to reduce its transmission,” Potter’s order says.
“Restrictions on certain activities are essential to preserve the health of soldiers, civilians and family members. In alignment with the measures taken by the state of Arizona, which may differ from U.S. government and Department of Defense policy, it is prudent to restrict certain activities in order to maintain good order and discipline, health and safety, and ensure optimum readiness.”
The edict prohibits service members from traveling any farther than 60 miles from Fort Huachuca, within the U.S.
That means Tucson, which is about 75 miles away, is off limits, except for soldiers who live there and travel back and forth to Fort Huachuca daily, Potter’s order states. And even though Naco, Sonora, is only 40 miles away, the small border town is also prohibited because it’s not in the U.S.
But even traveling within the 60-mile radius is not recommended for soldiers who live on and off the installation, unless the outing is essential.
According to Potter’s order, essential includes: healthcare, grocery shopping, take-out food, banking, post office, laundry and getting gas.
“All other travel outside the local area, or that is not out of necessity, is prohibited,” the order states.
Ditto for service members who live off-post, or outside the 60-mile range, to include Tucson. The latter however, are allowed to travel to Fort Huachuca to work, shop at the commissary, the post exchange, and other “essential services.”
On Wednesday, it was announced that beginning April 10, all patrons of the Fort Huachuca Commissary and Exchange must wear a cloth face covering in the store.
The restrictions also target visitors to the homes of soldiers on and off post, as well as civilians who live on post, and civilians who live off post, but work on the installation.
“Military personnel, whether residing on or off-post, are prohibited from inviting or allowing individuals traveling from outside the local area, to visit their residence,” the order says.
“Addiotionally, military personnel are prohibited from meeting or staying overnight in other lodging with persons who reside outside the local area and who traveled to the local area after the date of this order.”
The same goes for civilians who live on post and civilians who live off-post, but require access to Fort Huachuca daily. Additionally, soldiers are prohibited from telling anyone — except their direct chain of command — if anyone on the installation has tested positive for COVID-19, is awaiting a test result for the virus, or, is in quarantine or isolation. Last week Potter reveled that the fifth case of COVID-19 in Cochise County was someone who works on Fort Huachuca.
Potter said the only reason she gave out the information is because U.S. Department of Defense guidelines require that all commanders report the first case of COVID-19 on their installations.
At Fort Huachuca’s weekly Facebook COVID-19 town hall Tuesday evening, Potter also mentioned another Department of Defense guideline that was issued this past Sunday regarding cloth face masks for everyone on Fort Huachuca. The masks must be worn wherever social distancing can’t be practiced, the DoD directive from U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says.
“This is a hot topic,” Potter mentioned during the Town Hall session.
And a somewhat confusing one.
Commanders at Fort Huachuca are still wrestling with the order because uniformed personnel are limited to what they can wear while in military garb, said Potter and Fort Huachuca spokeswoman Tanja Linton.
But Potter’s order offers some suggestions and limitations to what’s allowed and what’s not. Cutting up an old uniform is not advisable because of the material’s “permethrin and wrinkle-free treatment,” the order says. Fort Huachuca’s Facebook page includes diagrams that demonstrate how to fashion a face mask from a T-shirt or a bandana.
Potter’s order is also clear on what’s acceptable for service members while in uniform: “Service members in uniform, to the extent practical, are encouraged to ensure that the color of their face covering is black, green, tan, brown, gray, or a camouflage pattern to match the uniform. Service members will not wear face coverings that have printed wording, profanity, racist, demeaning or derogatory logos, script or imagery.”
At the town hall, Potter showed off a cloth face mask that she said her neighbor’s daughter made and another one that a sergeant major’s wife had fashioned.
The major general brightened during the town hall’s question and answer period when someone from the public asked if volunteers could make face masks for the soldiers at Fort Huachuca.
“We would be really excited for any volunteers to pitch in and provide us with some homemade solutions,” Potter said.