For now, like other Americans, soldiers are fashioning makeshift face coverings from T-shirts and scarves to blunt the spread of COVID-19 as they adapt to new military policy.
But soldiers wanting to complement their combat uniform with a camouflage face covering have a problem: they cannot cut up and adapt the material from their combat clothes because it is treated with special chemicals.
The Army now says it now plans to issue official face coverings more in keeping with the professional look of the service that meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on face coverings.
“We are going to get you the masks,” said the service’s top enlisted soldier, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston. “In the near term, we will get you something either black or camouflage to put on.”
Grinston was talking in a Facebook live Town Hall session, together with the military and civilian heads of the Army.
Army Chief of Staff James McConville said that he expected the non-surgical masks within a week.
McConville emphasized that they did not want soldiers using camouflage uniforms.
“Our uniforms are treated with chemicals for various reasons, so we do not want people using these uniforms and putting them close to their face,” said McConville.
Officials emphasized that masks would be non-surgical, with all surgical standard masks needing to be put aside for medical use.
Unit leaders can decide on the color of masks, according to Army officials.
Grinston said that homemade masks should look as professional as possible. “You’ve got either a … black neck gaiter, brown, some kind of scarf—that’s fine,” he said. “Use common sense. I don’t want to see any skull and crossbones on your face—maybe a brown or something that looks somewhat professional.”
Earlier this week, the Pentagon ordered that all military personnel must wear makeshift face coverings, per CDC public guidelines, if they need to work closer to each other than 6 feet of “social distancing.”
“Effective immediately, to the extent practical, all individuals on DoD [Department of Defense] property, installations, and facilities will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain 6 feet of social distance in public areas or work centers,” states the official memo (pdf), which was made public April 6.
The new guidelines apply to all military personnel, civilian employees, family members, contractors, and all other people on DoD property. They don’t apply to the homes of service members or their families that are located on military installations.
Soldiers are authorized to wear the “neck gaiter and other cloth items, such as bandanas and scarves, as face coverings,” according to the guidance.
The CDC on April 4 recommended that all Americans should start to wear cloth face coverings in public settings. The face coverings aim to block the wearer from unwittingly spreading the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly referred to as novel coronavirus.
Each department will provide further detailed guidance for its service members, the Pentagon said.
“As an interim measure, all individuals are encouraged to fashion face coverings from household items or common materials, such as clean T-shirts or other clean cloths that can cover the nose and mouth area.”
The Department of Defense says it won’t issue personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators or surgical masks “as these will be reserved for the appropriate personnel.”