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Pentagon Halts Domestic Travel by Troops to Slow Coronavirus Spread

The late-Friday edict goes much farther than Wednesday's limits on international travel.

Military personnel have been forbidden to travel beyond the "local area" of their assigned base, while Defense civilian employees and the families of troops and civilians are barred from using "government-funded transportation" to do so, according to a Defense Department memo issued Friday night. 

Additionally, the department will not hire any civilian who does not already live within commuting distance of the job they're applying for.

The new rules, intended to help slow the spread of COVID-19, were approved on Friday by Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist.

"This restriction will halt all domestic travel, including Permanent Change of Station, and Temporary Duty," said an unsigned press statement released with the memo. "Additionally, service members will be authorized local leave only."

The restrictions apply from March 16 to May 11. Exceptions include travel that is "mission-essential, for humanitarian reasons, or warranted due to extreme hardship," the statement said.

The statement implied that dependents and Defense civilians were also being forbidden to travel. But the memo indicated that they are merely being denied "government-funded" transportation to do so: "All DoD military personnel will stop movement while this memorandum is in effect. In addition, DoD civilian personnel and DoD family members, whose transportation is government-funded, will also stop movement." 

The edict broadens restrictions announced Wednesday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, which forbid troops, Defense civilians and their families to travel “to, from, or through” countries designated as a Level 3 risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the time of the announcement, the CDC list included only Italy, South Korea, China, and Iran. But within hours, the CDC updated its Level 3 list to include 29 European countries affected by the virus, including thousands of troops and families in Germany. Service members’ families are also banned from traveling to Level 2 countries, which at the time of the announcement included the UK and Bahrain, but those countries were removed from the list by Thursday morning.

Here is the full text of the statement:

"Today, the Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist approved new travel restrictions for service members, DoD civilians, and their families assigned to DoD installations, facilities and surrounding areas within the United States and its territories. This restriction will halt all domestic travel, including Permanent Change of Station, and Temporary Duty. This restriction will also pause civilian hiring at DoD installations and components for persons who do not reside within the hiring entity's local comminuting [sic] area. 

"Additionally, service members will be authorized local leave only, following Service guidelines. This new guidance is effective March 16 and continues through May 11.

"Similar to other travel guidance regarding COVID-19, travel exceptions may be granted for compelling cases where the travel is mission-essential, for humanitarian reasons, or warranted due to extreme hardship. Approval authority for these exceptions belongs to the Combatant Commander, the Service Secretaries, the Chief Management Officer, or the Director of the Joint Staff, but may be delegated.

"The Department will continue to issue additional guidance with regard to the COVID-19 as conditions warrant.  Our goal is to remain ahead of the virus spread so our military force remains effective and ready.  

"For more information on the CDC travel restrictions, visit

"We encourage all DOD personnel to visit Coronavirus: DOD Response for information on staying healthy during the outbreak.  The Department will issue follow-on guidance on this directive prior to implementation."

Kevin Baron contributed to this report.