Air Force sustains operations amid COVID-19 pandemic

By: Clayton Filipowicz


The United States Air Force stands ready and able to defend the homeland, execute its global missions and sustain core operations, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein conducts a media briefing about the Air Force’s response to COVID-19, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 18, 2020.

DoD photo // Lisa Ferdinando

Message from the top

On March 18, 2020, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein emphasized the importance of protecting the force from COVID-19 while maintaining the ability to conduct global missions.

“We’ve got fighters, bombers, and maintainers deployed working to keep America safe,” Goldfein said during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon. “We’re still flying global mobility missions and conducting global space operations. So, the global missions we as an Air Force support in the joint force, all those missions continue.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the U.S. Air Force’s core missions remain unimpeded.

COVID-19 response

Air Mobility Command continued rapid global mobility operations on March 17, when U.S. Airmen transported a shipment of 500,000 COVID-19 testing swabs from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Memphis, Tennessee. The mission, which was headed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, utilized Air Force active duty, Reserve and National Guard components to ensure timely delivery of the supplies.

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Airmen assigned to the 721st Aerial Port Squadron load pallets of medical supplies onto a C-130J Super Hercules heading to Aviano Air Base, Italy, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, March 20, 2020. The supplies were sent in an effort to provide medical support to Italy amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Air Force photo // Airman 1st Class John R. Wright

To aid the Italian response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a Ramstein Air Base C-130J Super Hercules delivered a life-saving medical capability, the En-Route Patient Staging System, to the Italian Ministry of Defense. The vital medical capability was transported to Aviano AB via an 86th Airlift Wing C-130J Super Hercules out of Ramstein AB, Germany, on March 20.

The ERPSS is a flexible, modular patient staging system able to operate across a spectrum of scenarios such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. The modular system provides 10 patient staging beds inside two tents, can support up to 40 patients in 24 hours, comes with seven days of medical supplies and can achieve initial operating capability within one hour of notification.

Also, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group helped minimize the spread of COVID-19 by staffing a drive-thru COVID-19 testing station on March 23. 

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Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group conduct COVID-19 tests March 23, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. To minimize the spread of COVID-19, the 56th MDG is utilizing drive-thru services to conduct tests. The 56th MDG is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and working closely with Arizona health officials to decrease the impact of COVID-19 at Luke AFB.

U.S. Air Force photo // Senior Airman Alexander Cook

National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are being called upon to assist state and local governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York, guardsmen are providing logistical and administrative support to state and local governments, staffing two call centers, assisting three drive-thru COVID-19 testing stations, cleaning public buildings, warehousing and delivering bulk supplies of New York State sanitizer to local governments and helping schools deliver meals to students at home.

The New Jersey National Guard also assisted a COVID-19 Community Based Testing Site at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey, March 23, 2020. The testing site, which was established in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was staffed by the New Jersey Department of Health, New Jersey State Police, and New Jersey National Guard.

Strengthening joint partnerships

The Air Force’s European Bomber Task Force regularly deploys bomber aircraft to the European theater of operations to conduct joint training with allied nations. The task force continues to train with U.S. partners to strengthen relationships and ensure the sovereignty of allied airspace.

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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Trevon Gardner, assigned to the 5th Security Forces Squadron at Minot Air Base, North Dakota, poses for a portrait in front of a B-2 Spirit on March 19, 2020, at RAF Fairford, United Kingdom. Gardner deployed to RAF Fairford in support of Bomber Task Force Europe operations, which tests the readiness of the Airmen and equipment that support it, as well as their collective ability to operate at forward locations.

U.S. Air National Guard photo // Tech. Sgt. Colton Elliott

One example of the task force’s continued operations tempo is the recent Icelandic Air Policing mission conducted March 16. The mission involved two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit aircraft from RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, as well as Norwegian F-35 Lightning IIs and U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle aircraft. 

The Bomber Task Force achieved a new milestone over the North Sea on March 18, when two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers successfully conducted a fifth generation integration flight with Norwegian and Dutch F-35 Lightning IIs.

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A B-2A Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Royal Netherlands air force F-35A and U.S. F-15C Eagle assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing conduct aerial operations in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-2 over the North Sea March 18, 2020. Bomber missions provide opportunities to train and work with NATO allies and theater partners in combined and joint operations and exercises.

U.S. Air Force photo // Master Sgt. Matthew Plew

“The world expects that NATO and the U.S. continue to execute our mission with decisiveness, regardless of any external challenge,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “Missions like these provide us an opportunity to assure our allies while sending a clear message to any adversary that no matter the challenge, we are ready.”

Sustaining the training pipeline

A formal memorandum released by Air Education and Training Command on March 18 detailed the command’s designation as a mission essential function of the U.S. Air Force during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Donald Weaver, 320th Training Squadron military training instructor, leads his flight with a salute during an Air Force BMT graduation Mar. 19, 2020, held at the 320th Training Squadron’s Airman Training Complex on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Due to current world events, the 37th Training Wing has implemented social distancing by graduating 668 Airmen during four different ceremonies at different Airman Training Complexes. The graduation ceremonies will be closed to the public until further notice for the safety and security of the newly accessioned Airmen and their family members due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

U.S. Air Force photo

Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of AETC, stated that the command will continue to “recruit and access Airmen; train candidates and enlistees in Officer Training School, ROTC and basic military training; develop Airmen in technical and flying training; and deliver advanced academic education such as the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.”

Prior to attending basic military training, potential recruits are required to undergo processing at a Military Entrance Processing Station. MEPS members have virus protocol procedures to observe and take the temperatures of all individuals entering MEPS facilities. Additionally, Air Force recruiters complete a medical prescreen of all applicants which covers all medical concerns including COVID-19.

Although they may be a little quieter, Air Force Basic Military Training graduations will continue to press on at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Graduation ceremonies have been closed to the public until further notice while social distancing procedures have been implemented to further protect the health and safety of Airmen.

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U.S. Air Force basic military training graduates stand at attention during an Air Force BMT graduation Mar. 19, 2020, held at the 320th Training Squadron’s Airman Training Complex on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Due to current world events, the 37th Training Wing has implemented social distancing by graduating 668 Airmen during four different ceremonies at different Airman Training Complexes. The graduation ceremonies will be closed to the public until further notice for the safety and security of the newly accessioned Airmen and their family members due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

U.S. Air Force photo

On March 19, the 37th Training Wing implemented social distancing procedures by graduating 668 Airmen using four separate ceremonies at four different Airman Training Complexes. Although the events were closed to the public, provisions were made to live stream the Air Force graduation ceremonies through the USAF Basic Military Training Facebook page. 

Remaining ready on the homefront

To prevent the spread of viruses, the Air Force is urging its personnel and their families to continue practicing proper hygiene. This includes washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Also, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and avoid close contact with those who are sick. Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces should also be done for good measure.

For the Airmen on the flight line, social distancing procedures are rigorously enforced. Additionally, aircrews are having their temperatures taken to ensure aircraft maintain a  clean environment that’s safe for their fellow Airmen.

For the latest and most reliable information regarding COVID-19, visit https://www.af.mil/News/Coronavirus-Disease-2019/.

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