DoD’s travel ban is lifting, with some restrictions still in place

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A stop-movement order issued across the Defense Department in March is starting to roll back, according to a memo issued Friday.

DoD will be following the White House’s lead in determining where service members can travel on official business, Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote.

The guidance will allow travel for many permanent change-of-station moves and training exercises that have been put on hold since March 12.

“This conditions-based, phased approach prioritizes the safety and security of our personnel, their families, and our communities, while balancing the need to advance Service members’ career opportunities, unit rotational deployments, and other imperatives,” Esper wrote.

States, districts and territories will be evaulated based on the Opening Up America Again plan, using data from the Health and Human Services Department and Centers for Disease and Prevention, as well as input from the military services and combatant commands.

Troops, families and other personnel will be able to travel, including within the U.S. and to host countries, as long as their destinations have lifted of local shelter-in-place orders and shown a 14-day downward trend of either flu-like or COVID-like symptom reports, as well as confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19.

Those 14-day downward trends will be considered retroactively, and don’t start with the release of the new policy, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

“There will be some localities and some states that go ‘Green,’ if you will, immediately,” said Matthew Donovan, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

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Donovan didn’t yet have a list of localities that have met a 14-day downward trend, but those locations will be published as early as Tuesday night for DoD personnel, he added. He also anticipated that a list of locations will be made public on a weekly basis.

On the Pentagon reservation, for instance, a downward trend started on May 14, according to Lisa W. Hershman, the Defense Department’s chief management officer.

“We don’t have any data yet from the weekend, considering it was a long weekend, but so far we are counting about eight days of solid data and we’re still in a downward regression,” Hershman said.

Installations will be assessed continuously, according to the memo, and cleared for movement based on local travel restrictions, availability of services (like schools and childcare), quality control for movement of household goods and a relaxed health protection condition.

The defense under secretary for personnel and readiness will publish notices of whether a location is coming on or off the restricted list, the memo said.

The memo also adds to a previous list of exemptions to the stop-movement order:

• Travel for recruiting and accessions, including by recruiters and new trainees.

• Travel for necessary medical treatment.

• Combat command-requested deployments, following a 14-day isolation period.

• Troops who have checked out of a previous unit and are waiting to travel to a new one.

• Troops on temporary duty who are scheduled to return home during the stop-movement order.

• Troops or DoD civilians preparing to separate or retire.

• Travel for professional military education.

• Returning home from a foreign assignment per State Department order.

For situations that fall outside of these parameters, troops can apply for waivers in cases of mission-essential travel, or because of extreme hardship or humanitarian concerns.

For deployed troops, the combatant commander can approve movements. The Joint Chiefs chairman can approve for the Joint Staff, while the service secretaries will approve for troops at home, the National Guard chief can approve for members and the Pentagon’s chief management officer will approve for anyone assigned to the defense secretary’s office or other DoD agencies.

“As far as traveling through different locations, the commanders are going to look at all intermediate stops and make sure they meet criteria,” said Donovan.

Global force movements, such as deployments, are exempted from the new policy, but combatant commanders will “certainly check on” the COVID-19 case trends in countries troops have to travel through on their way to their final destinations.

“That would be up to the combatant commander who would look at intermediate stops and the conditions on the ground, as well,” said Donovan, adding that for domestic travel, the Pentagon wants to prioritize movement by military aircraft or DoD contracted aircraft for units traveling together.

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