WASHINGTON -- Noncommissioned officers (NCO) and petty officers must be "the calm in the eye of the storm" as the armed services confront the coronavirus pandemic, Senior Enlisted Advisor (SEAC) to the Chairman Ramón "CZ" Colón-López said.
The SEAC spoke during a town hall meeting on Facebook this afternoon.
NCOs must be the conduits of truthful, correct and timely information to troops and their families, the SEAC said. This is critical to ensure that people's minds are at ease.
Colón-López said many of the questions were grouped around money, moving and separations from families. He said he is in daily conversations with Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper, and that both men are intensely interested in feedback from the field.
The financial cost of the stop-movement order is a concern to many families, Colón-López said. Many families received orders and began the process of moving — including committing to a new house — only to have the move frozen. Those families may now be paying for two homes. The SEAC recommended that service members in that predicament contact their local finance office to get the specifics, because no particular regulation is going to cover all cases. But the bottom line is that finance offices are working for continuation of basic allowance of housing for those people who are affected.
He said they are also working on housing allowances for members moving from within the continental United States who are paying for two households. "We're working on ways to be able to go ahead and compensate our members due to any COVID-related issues," he said.
Service members are looking ahead to when the stop-movement order ends and the provisions for moving can proceed. Colón-López said there will "Clearly, there's going to be an order of priority on how we're doing, because there's only going to be so much capacity to be able to move everybody that is on hold right now," he said. "Given that [the stop-movement order] can potentially go through the main [moving] season is going to create a backlog, every single service right now is developing plans of actions [to] make sure that we properly prioritize and move people."
He said financial hardship and separation will be factors that commanders consider when assigning priorities. Moving commanders, essential personnel, schools and more will be part of the equation. "But we want you to make sure to continue the dialogue with your chain of command to make sure we know exactly who's been a subject of this hardship and what action we need to take to best take care of you," he said.
The stop-movement order also affected leaves. "We're currently and aggressively working on a course of action to treat this the same way that we do deployments to where you're able to carry over leave," the SEAC said. "Now, it is not finalized yet, but I will promise you one thing — that I have been your strongest advocate, along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to make sure that this happens for you."
"We're going to continue to fight for you, and it is simply just the right thing to do," he continued. "A lot of weddings, a lot of planned leave, spring breaks for a lot of families have been canceled
because of this stop movement. And we want to make sure that you get that time back to be able to enjoy your family."be a priority list once the order is lifted.
The stop-movement order will last until at least May 11 for moves in the continental United States and May 23 for overseas locations. "Right now, there's a discussion of what's going to happen next: Will this be extended, [or] will the stop movement be rescinded?" he said. "COVID gets a vote. Until we get to see the spread of the disease peak and start coming down, … we need to maintain the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines in place."
One airman asked the SEAC when the pandemic is expected to end.
The pandemic is unprecedented and there is no vaccine for it, he replied. "This pandemic is going to go ahead and put restrictions on a lot of us for quite some time," he said.
Performing the military mission under threat of the virus may be the new normal, Colón-López said. "There's going to be a lot of changes to norms in society, there's going to be a lot of changes to procedures and the way that we used to do things — from grocery shopping, to the way that we interact with people, to the way that we conduct meetings, and the ways that we conduct training."
The safety of the force is paramount, the SEAC stressed.
"The bottom line is that we cannot afford to keep people getting sick," he said, adding that military medical professionals are a crucial asset right now.
"The more safe we are, the less strain on them, and the more they can handle the people that are already infected by this virus," he said. "So, again, I ask you and urge you to please continue to be patient. Think of ways that we can go ahead and get through this. And, at the end of the day, we'll have a hell of an after-action report to go ahead and discuss how we beat this thing."