Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, III Corps and Fort Hood deputy commander, and Col. Jason Wesbrock, Fort Hood Garrison commander, hosted a Facebook virtual town hall on Tuesday to answer questions about the most recent order lifting some restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday the second phase of the State of Texas’ ongoing plan to safely reopen Texas while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Under Phase II, on Friday restaurants may increase their occupancy to 50% and additional services and activities that remained closed under Phase I may open with restricted occupancy levels and minimum required standard health protocols.
Additional services which opened up in local communities Monday include child day care services and gyms, two hot topic questions during the town hall about when they will reopen on post.
“Child care is a great concern for our people,” said Wesbrock. “Gov. Abbott just said yesterday that child care can open up off base, and we’re going to start as well.”
To get there, however, Garrison and Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation are working together to ensure the facilities are properly sterilized according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, he said. Employees need to be trained on the new guidelines, and once that is in place, soldiers and their families will be educated on the new procedures that will be put in place to ensure the safety of the children.
Unfortunately, there will be a reduced capacity at the child care centers both on and off post, Wesbrock acknowledged. Individual units on Fort Hood will need to work with single parents, dual-military families and families where both parents work to ensure child care needs are met on a case-by-case basis until full-time solutions can be found.
When it comes to the post gyms opening back up to full capacity, Efflandt said it couldn’t happen soon enough.
“However, when it comes to disease spread, gyms are high-spread areas,” he said. “This week, gyms will open in civilian community across Texas. We will monitor that, find the best practices from those gyms and go from there. The volume here exceeds those civilian gyms. It will be on the near horizon, assuming things go well off post.”
Another big concern was vacation time, and when soldiers would finally begin to start taking it — especially those getting ready for an overseas rotation.
“Except for emergency leave, the secretary of defense has suspended all leave until 30 June, Efflandt said. “We expect by the end of June to get additional guidance.”
When it comes to permanent change of station moves, there is currently a backlog of about seven months on Fort Hood for moving on to a new duty station, he added. Most military installations are facing the same issue, since there is a limited number of moving companies contracted with the Department of Defense to complete the moves.
Efflandt cautioned that there was no guarantee leave and PCS moves would begin after June 30, however.
“What we need to be careful about is assuming everything will go back to normal after then,” he said. “We will know what the next step will be after 30 June, but it’s too early to know what that step will be.”
Questions were also asked about what upcoming holidays would look like. Independence Day, for example, will look a lot different than previous years, Wesbrock said. Many of the usual events, such as concerts and family activities, have been cancelled.
“We will celebrate July 4, though. Instead of a large gathering at Fort Hood Stadium, though, we’re going to just do fireworks,” he said. “We have the largest display here in Central Texas. We pay for that out of our recycling budget. There will be a number of ways to still enjoy fireworks, but without the large crowd.”
On a more somber note, questions were also asked about the ongoing search for missing 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier Pfc. Vanessa Guillen. Guillen went missing April 22.
“This story breaks my heart. If you know something, call the number so we can bring our trooper back,” Efflandt said. “Again, please call the hotline if you know something. It’s incredibly important, incredibly necessary. We pray for her and her family.”
Anyone with information should contact Army Criminal Investigative Division Special Agents at 254-495-7767 or the Military Police Desk at 254-287-4001.
Army CID officials are offering a $15,000 reward for credible information in regard to the soldier’s whereabouts.
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