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Army defends bringing cadets back to campus for graduation featuring Trump

Army defends bringing cadets back to campus for graduation featuring Trump
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Army leaders on Thursday defended their decision to bring nearly 1,000 West Point cadets back to campus for a commencement ceremony featuring a speech from President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE, saying the graduates would have had to come back to campus anyway despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to bring the cadets back to West Point to begin the process of the physicals they need to take, all of the clearance procedures, to clear barracks, get their personal items,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides Esper ducks questions on military involvement in election Army secretary: No request for military intervention in election unrest MORE told reporters during a Pentagon news briefing. “They have to come back to the academy to begin the process of becoming second lieutenants and to report to their first assignments.”

McCarthy added it will be a “small, safe” ceremony, a celebration he said was “hard earned” by the cadets.

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Pressed on why West Point couldn’t hold a virtual ceremony, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville replied, “We can’t telecommute to combat.”

U.S. Military Academy cadets have been learning remotely since their spring break in March amid the coronavirus crisis. The decision to recall seniors back to campus in New York, the United States’s epicenter for the coronavirus outbreak, for the June 13 graduation ceremony has garnered criticism as a political move to give Trump a platform to speak.

Trump announced earlier this month he would give the commencement address at West Point in comments made a day before Vice President Pence gave the commencement speech at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

The Air Force Academy had kept seniors on campus even as it sent underclassmen home. It held a socially distanced commencement ceremony April 18 about a month earlier than originally planned.

The U.S. Naval Academy, meanwhile, has opted to hold a virtual graduation ceremony and has canceled other traditional celebratory milestones.

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On Thursday, Army officials insisted the returning cadets would be kept safe. West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams said the students will be kept in a “safety bubble,” including being screened and tested for the virus at a staging area and being quarantined for 14 days before coming on campus.

“We will do it safely,” Williams said at the Pentagon briefing. “They’ll eat separately, they’ll live separately, and we’ll make sure that they are ready to join our great United States Army.”

Cadets will be grouped into five “cohorts” that will not intermingle with each other, he added.

Williams said he informed New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoOvernight Health Care: NIH chief: Trump has not met with task force in 'quite some time' | CDC reports 300,000 more deaths than expected this year | UK to start challenge trials for vaccine Cuomo: Travel within Tri-State area should be avoided due to COVID-19 spike California plans to review coronavirus vaccine independently MORE’s (D) office about the decision to bring seniors back to campus, but did not know if the governor “gave his blessing” for it to happen.

Williams would not directly answer repeated questions about whether cadets who refuse to return will be disciplined.

“We will take each case separately, case by case,” Williams said. “I’m not going to make a blanket statement like that in terms of discipline. I am confident that our cadets will come back and graduate.”