WASHINGTON – Most of the nation’s top military leaders are quarantining after coming in contact with a senior officer with COVID-19, according to the Pentagon.
The military’s top two officers, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. John Hyten, along with service chiefs from the Army, Navy and Air Force, are in quarantine after meeting with the officer last week, according to a senior Defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly. Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, was not at the meeting. The officer who tested positive for the disease is Adm. Charles Ray, the No. 2 officer at the Coast Guard.
None of the officers in quarantine have tested positive or shown symptoms of the disease, according to the official.
“We are aware that Vice Commandant Ray has tested positive for COVID-19 and that he was at the Pentagon last week for meetings with other senior military leaders,” Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. “Some meeting attendees included other Service Chiefs. We are conducting additional contact tracing and taking appropriate precautions to protect the force and the mission. Out of an abundance of caution, all potential close contacts from these meetings are self-quarantining and have been tested this morning. No Pentagon contacts have exhibited symptoms and we have no additional positive tests to report at this time.”
The penetration of the disease at the highest level of military leadership comes even after the military has taken great pains to protect its general and flag officers and raises questions about the vulnerability of the Pentagon leadership to the disease. But Hoffman said military operations have not been affected by the quarantines.
“There is no change to the operational readiness or mission capability of the U.S. armed forces,” Hoffman said.
CNN first reported the news.
Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in an interview, said the military is well-suited to working remotely and, if a senior officer is incapacitated, to carry on with a subordinate.
“The chain of command is so strong,” Hagel said. “You never want to lose a chief. But if we did, we are prepared. There’s always somebody right behind them to step in.”
Difficulties in communicating among the chief and their staffs, allies and adversaries can largely be ameliorated by technology, said Tim Bakken, a professor at West Point and author of “The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris, and Failure in the U.S. Military.” Adversaries can be counted on to press any perceived vulnerability, he said, but they, too, are likely dealing with similar problems posed by COVID-19.
“Now would not be a particularly fortuitous time to challenge us,” Bakken said.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis raises serious national security concerns and that adversaries should be expected to exploit U.S. vulnerabilities.
“We have the president and first lady ill and the country is in a vulnerable situation. We have to be very prepared to deal with the possibility that an adversary will seek to take advantage,” he said.
Since Trump’s announcement Friday of his positive COVID-19 test, at least 19 other White House and government officials and associates also have announced positive tests, including Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary; Nicholas Luna, assistant and “body man” to the president and others.