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Marines welcome 275 new recruits to San Diego a week after others tested positive for coronavirus

Marine Corps Private First Class Sean F. Evans, Charlie Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, stands in front of his squad bay at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego (Marine Corps/Released)

Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego welcomed a new company of recruits Monday evening as the Corps tries to maintain its training pipeline, a week after several recruits in San Diego tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The positive cases have not been reported previously but were acknowledged by Brig. Gen. Ryan Heritage during an interview with the Union-Tribune Monday. Recruits who tested positive are in isolation while the rest of the company — Bravo Company — is quarantined on the base, said Capt. Martin Harris, a depot spokesman.

The new company arriving at MCRD San Diego — Echo Company — is undergoing a new process in San Diego that also will be used at the Marine Corps’ East Coast boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Recruits that arrived in San Diego Monday will stay at an undisclosed hotel off-base where, confined to rooms of two, they will remain for 14 days before returning to the depot to begin training.

The purpose of the quarantine, Heritage said, is to keep recruits separate from those farther along in training at the depot.

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“They’ll spend two weeks in a hotel, and once they’re all given the thumbs-up then they’re going to get back on buses and going to the yellow footprints,” Heritage said, referring the iconic spots new recruits normally begin their training.

The latest cohort of recruits were issued N95 respirators at the airport USO before being bused to the depot. Once there, instead of piling off of buses onto those yellow footprints, they were greeted by masked Navy corpsman for the first of many medical screenings to come.

Recruits were then funneled into a depot gym where, at 6-foot intervals, they began signing paperwork and made their first phone calls home.

Recruits were encouraged along by Marine drill instructors but didn’t receive the verbal haranguing normal at the start of boot camp. That tradition is still to come, however.

Heritage said he is “hyper-focused” to make sure these new recruits go through the same transformation and experience as previous Marines have gone through.

“They will experience the same thing,” he said, “which is why we’re doing the two weeks of (quarantine) separate. Then they’re gonna get right back on a bus, drive right over to those historic yellow footprints and they’re gonna meet their drill instructors.”

Each depot is staggering the weeks in which they accept new recruits. Next week, a company will report to Parris Island, Heritage said.

Recruits weren’t issued uniforms yet, just basic sweats and underwear, Harris said. They also won’t get their first haircuts until after the two-week quarantine. Recruits will keep to a daily schedule and routine with a short amount of free time.

The Marines did seize their cell phones, and they won’t be allowed free reign of the hotel.

The depot has established a command post at the hotel and recruits will have 24-hour security. They’ll also be screened several times a day for signs of COVID-19.

Heritage said the work of producing new Marines is an important part of maintaining the military’s readiness to respond if needed.

“The lifeblood of the Marine Corps comes through here, so we gotta continue to pump that through,” he said.

“But we’re doing so with force preservation, so safety and health of the recruits and all the permanent personnel — Marines and civilians — is really up front with us….”

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© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune