Esper Says Pentagon Is Bracing for a ‘New Normal’ That Lasts ‘An Extended Period of Time’

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper visits the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, April 15, 2020.

DoD / Marvin Lynchard

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Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper visits the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, April 15, 2020.

"What do we do over the next 6, 12, 18 months?” the defense secretary asked at a Monday virtual event.

The U.S. military is preparing to live with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic for the foreseeable future, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday. 

“The long-term view is: What do we do over the next 6, 12, 18 months?” Esper said in a virtual Brookings Institution event. “There will be a new normal that we will have to adapt to for an extended period of time at least until we have a vaccine that we’re confident in.”

But amid the planning to maintain readiness during the pandemic is planning to reopen the Pentagon “in phases,” Esper said.

“For the past few weeks, our chief management officer has been developing plans to reopen the Pentagon,” Esper said.

He added that he had been “pleasantly surprised” by the level of productivity that Pentagon employees were able to maintain while teleworking.

Esper’s words confirmed earlier reporting and senior Pentagon leaders’ statements that the U.S. military is preparing to operate under pandemic restrictions for the foreseeable future even as some states are beginning to lift coronavirus lockdowns. The differing policies of military and state officials demonstrate the lack of national consensus about how and when to “reopen.”

“We’re going to be living with this virus for some period of time. So making sure we adjust the protocols and adjust the process I think is absolutely critical,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters last week. “The new abnormal I’m defining as living and operating with a cyclical virus until we get a vaccine. All the projections are no vaccine for upwards of a year.”

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to reopening military installations, senior Army leaders told Pentagon reporters on Thursday. 

“The virus did not impact the country uniformly, so we need to tailor our approach to reopening,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said. “By developing Army-wide standards and protocols now, the Army will help ensure our senior mission commanders are ready once DOD and local movement restrictions ease.” 

For more on how the U.S. military is preparing for COVID-19’s long-term effects on the force, read: States’ ‘Reopening’ Might Not Apply to Troops, Military Families.

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