May 22 (UPI) — The U.S. Military Academy announced plans Friday to ensure the safety of cadets at their June 13 graduation ceremony.
The cancellation of the remainder of the semester was announced March 19, when cadets were ordered to return home instead of the West Point, N.Y., college and officer training school. They have not been back since.
President Donald Trump has indicated he plans to attend the ceremony.
There has been criticism over the demand that West Point’s 1,000-member Class of 2020 return, citing travel complications relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity of many returning cadets passing through viral hot spot New York City and the possibility that a large gathering of future Army officers could promote transfer of the virus.
The Army said that, at the bare minimum, graduating cadets must move from their barracks at the school and receive medical screening before entering the next phase of their military careers and go through other aspects of outprocessing.
The first step occurred on May 8, when graduating cadets received questionnaires regarding any COVID-19 exposures or symptoms. The data will be used to identify which cadets are eligible to travel to West Point.
They have been divided into five cohorts, each of which will return on a different day next week, beginning Tuesday.
“We’ve never done this at West Point, and it’s very rare to be able to say something like that,” said Lt. Col. George Mitroka, leader of the organizing team.
“Most of the time you can pull a CONOP [concept of operation] off the shelf. Graduation is pretty much the same every year, but, in this case, we’ve never been put under these types of restraints and constraints, social distancing and medical factors. All those things kind of had to get thrown into the plan for us to consider as we developed it over time.”
About 40 percent of returning graduates indicated they intend to fly from their hometowns across the United States, Mitroka said. They have been directed to the airport in Newark, N.J., where they will be met by an Army representative and bused to West Point.
There, they will undergo a medical screening and remain under restrictive safe distancing protocols.
“The graduation ceremony is an important milestone, and while it may not be a traditional ceremony, our planning efforts will enable them to come together as a class one final time and for all of us to celebrate all of their accomplishments,” said Brig. Gen Curtis Buzzard, commandant of cadets, said.
“We will also rightly honor their official transition into the profession of arms. They are ready, and I know they are going to make a tremendous impact on our Army.”