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San Diego Marines Boot Camp Stays Open While East Coast Orders A Halt

New recruits with Bravo Company, 1st Recruit training Battalion, receive a Un...

Photo by Cpl. Brooke C. Woods / U.S. Marine Corps

Above: New recruits with Bravo Company, 1st Recruit training Battalion, receive a Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) brief at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, March 30, 2020. At this point, recruits are informed of the articles under the UCMJ that apply to them while they are in recruit training. Marines and recruits on MCRD practice social distancing when possible for everyone's overall health and to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Marines continue to take in new recruits into boot camp in San Diego, despite Commandant David Berger ordering a pause on the east coast boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.

A group of over 200 recruits arrived in Marine Corps Recruiting Depot (MCRD) San Diego Monday evening, said Capt. Martin Harris, a spokesman for the recruit depot.

“What happened with the recruits that arrived on Monday? They came to the recruit depot,” he said. “They were screened initially and then they got a medical screening right after to ensure they didn’t have any symptoms.”

The west-coast Marines continue to admit a new class, even after Berger announced Monday on Twitter that he was halting new recruits coming into Parris Island. The Washington Post reported a number of recruits tested positive for COVID-19 at the Marine Corps’ boot camp on the east coast. MCRD San Diego takes in all recruits west of the Mississippi. Harris said they are taking extra precautions.

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“Their bed spaces have expanded to six feet, as well as all of the recruits' bed spaces have been expanded to six feet,” Harris said.

As with Parris Island, San Diego has begun keeping new recruits separated from the rest of the recruits for the first 14 days. They eat, sleep and go to class separately. MCRD San Diego limits the number of staff who interact with both groups. Officials at the San Diego boot camp are confident they can contain an outbreak, Harris said.

“We have had zero positive tests for COVID up to this point (among recruits). There is a little bit of luck involved in that. So a lot of training, A lot of planning and a little bit of luck has got us where we are today,” he said.

The Marines are still asking new recruits to fly commercial into San Diego, despite a 60 travel ban put into place military-wide, by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Staying open is seen as mission essential in San Diego. It takes up to a year to train a Marine, Harris said.

“We will potentially see an effect of this, if we suspend or stop making Marines here, that’s why it's so essential for us to continue operating,” he said.

Each service and even each command has reacted differently to the threat of spreading the virus.

The SEALs have suspended three of 11 portions of their boot camp, the grueling Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL in Coronado for 8 weeks, including the portion of training that includes the so-called "hell week." At least one person in the SEAL community has tested positive for COVID-19 outside the SEAL training pipelines.

Berger has said each Marine command makes its own initial decision on how to react to the virus. MCRD San Diego has had one case of COVID-19. Harris said it was a command separate from recruits and drill instructors and the person is isolating at home.

Listen to this story by Steve Walsh.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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