The Air Force’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

This video demonstrates what the total Air Force accomplished during the crisis and in preparation for future operations.

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(solemn music)

Today, our nation faces an unprecedented threat.

Our service members have been in harm’s way every day since the beginning of the fight against the coronavirus

We have an obligation to protect the American people regardless of the enemy. In this case, COVID-19 is the enemy, a virus.

Let there be no mistake. Protecting our people remains our top priority.

We need to take care of each other while we protect our fellow Americans.

We will continue to focus on three priorities. First, protect the force, their families, and communities.

Number two, in short, we maintain our national security mission capabilities.

And third support the entire government’s response to this pandemic.

[Richard] When we first started noticing that we were going to have to do something, and a pandemic was destined to hit our shores, the Air Force and the Air Forces, along with the rest of the Department of Defense, we started looking at what policies and what procedures we had.

There was no playbook. That was the other part that made it challenging. The Air Force had never been through a pandemic like this.

We first were focused upon providing appropriate support and guidance to the wings and the NAFs in regards to how to keep people safe.

This is unprecedented. No one that’s ever commanded a squadron today they went before them has ever had this type of experience. We stood up the crisis action team to orient our headquarters to what it was going to take to number one understand the threat and then provide the communication and transparency needed for not only our airmen but also their families.

The very first thing we did was activate our JOC, our joint operations center, and brought in our folks to start coordinating our responses so that we could put the right people into the right places.

There was so much conflicting information, and states were doing different things, made it interesting to try to get everybody on the same page and move forward. But as we looked at it again, we kept number-one focus the safety of our airmen and their families. And we had to do that.

[Daniel] The medical group for sure has been instrumental in detailing what the situation is not only on base or off base. We’ve also obviously put very stringent measures in terms of standardization of workspaces, standardizations of our persons, the face covering and masks, of course, the physical distancing.

[Terrence] We minimize a lot of operations, we amplified teleworking, and we split a lot of shifts so that if someone got affected on one shift, we were not shutting down the entire operation.

Many of our soldiers and airmen were literally deployed in the same town that they live in, and to protect them, we made a conscious decision to put everybody in hotels. We didn’t need people coming back and forth from, say a testing site that we were running, and then going home at night.

[Jacqueline] Well, what we didn’t know was how do we continue to operate the regular base? We never thought about how do you keep the pharmacy open for our retirees? How do you keep your commissary going? How do you keep our families safe? And our neighbors, our communities safe?

Us as a military community focusing on the resilience of the family has been extremely important.

[Peter] Community partners have been phenomenal. We’ve had a masquerade where we built masks for folks. We’ve had parades on Easter and for the Military Month of the Child. It’s been pretty inspiring, but I will tell you that there’s so many acts of greatness going around here.

And we flew over the city of Cheyenne to kind of raise morale over the city to pay thanks to the medical personnel who are fighting on the front lines against the COVID-19 pandemic. It shows that we are all in this together. We are here to support them just as much as they support us.

[Jon] We’ve had organizations on base that made masks that we distributed to the population, and we also had donations from the community. And you know they made 17, 000 masks for the installation that we passed out, not only to organizations on the installation, we also passed out to our dependents. (sewing machine whirs)

[Cynthia] We are making face covers, mask covers to go out to frontline workers to help prolong the PPE. I know how to sew. I have the equipment. It’s something that I can do. I can’t go fight this in the hospital, but I know how to use these, and if this is what we’ve gotta do for a while to keep people alive, then that’s helping our airmen do what they need to do to protect us as a country.

Thank you.

Partners off base provided some masks for us to give out to not only the service members, but family members and dependents as well. As a service member myself, I can’t focus on the mission if I’m concerned about, you know, the health of my family.

[Arnold] We needed to work with on the installation what support do you absolutely have to have? How many people do we need in the child development centers? How are we going to feed airmen out of the dining facilities? How are we going to make these things happen?

[Jon] How do we sustain the supply chain and have the depth in terms of stocks on the shelves to be able to replenish and continue to go on? Because we don’t know how long this is going to last. At the same time, it’s not just masks, it’s bleach, it’s hand sanitizers, you know, there’s cleaning products. The ingenuity like of our medical group, the public health, the creating a drive-thru process for the satellite pharmacy where people don’t queue in front of the BX waiting for a prescription.

[Adam] We shut down our windows and started a curbside pharmacy from scratch, but we want to make sure that our patients are engaging in good social distancing. We are wearing protective gear such as masks, gloves, and goggles.

Well I think everyone should be concerned. This is a pandemic. So I do want our airmen thinking about it because concerned airmen where our airmen that take action that will absolutely do the right thing to make sure that our folks are protected as we go forward. I will tell you that no one is going to be more prepared than the United States military. And I know it’s because of our airmens’ actions that we’ll be able to do that.

To those who wish us harm, make no mistake. Even with the challenges that this disease has brought to our shores, the Department of Defense stands ready to meet any threat and defend our nation.

Just because COVID is here doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop doing our mission. 100 percent we are ready.

The nation doesn’t need to be concerned at all that the Air Force, or any of our armed services for that matter, are ready to go and doing what they normally do. Our no-fail missions haven’t skipped a beat.

We’re not sacrificing the mission to take care of the people. Taking care of the people actually is enabling the mission so that when we are called to go do whatever we’re called to do, the people are ready to go.

And we never stop the mission. We have been fully mission-capable the entire time, and we thought that was important to lead through the COVID, especially when it was so severe here in Italy to start with.

Readiness and combat capability is what we do. and taking care of our people is what we do. just because, you know, you have some additional measures in place, or there’s a pandemic going on, that’s at our core, it’s in our DNA. That doesn’t stop. And you just have to figure out ways to be able to preserve that capacity, capability, continue to drive home.

One mission really had to continue. And that was our military training pipelines.

The question that I was asked was what do you think AETC can continue to deliver? And if at all possible, can you keep it open?

[Martin] We’ve learned over the years that if you take a knee or stop, that’s training that the Air Force will never get back.

We looked at and have gone through a proof of concept for basic military training at Keesler. It’s not unprecedented, but it hadn’t been done in years.

So staying up with the training, keeping their training timeline on time is really important to make sure that we’re still combat effective.

COVID-19 and the response to it has definitely focused our attention, but as a command we routinely plan to have multiple things happening at one time, stacked challenges. And so whether that would be another natural disaster happening while we were responding to COVID-19, or if it was a nation somewhere that was going to try to be opportunistic, cause problems, we are ready to respond.

You pay us to do this mission set under all conditions. And while the COVID reality is a very difficult one, it’s not as difficult as what we could be dealing with in our particular mission.

The battle didn’t stop, right? Folks downrange in theater still had their mission to do. Even in the midst and the hype as this started building up, we were still delivering bombs, bullets, humanitarian goods, troops downrange. Everything that we needed to do to keep our combatant commanders in a mission-ready state.

The war fighting never stopped. The whole time that we’re doing this, everything that’s happening on earth, nothing in space changed, still becoming a increasingly contested environment, still becoming increasingly under threat. And so our protect and defend mission never stopped.

Make no mistake. We are ready, we are agile, and we are lethal, and we can fulfill all of our global responsibilities anytime, any place using a multitude of weapon systems at our disposal.

Incredible, incredible job by the ICBM team to keep a fantastic alert rate going, just really impressive work what our command and control teams have done to really build resiliency and to protect them. I’ve been very impressed, the bomber task forces and the ability to project power, despite the challenges, and to keep training. The command is just doing a fantastic job.

The activities that are required to create readiness don’t change no matter whether you’re in a normal environment or whether pandemic going on. You just have to go in and do a hard examination of those activities that lead to readiness and figure out ways to build in redundancy and the ability to be able to continue no matter what.

Anything that happens in the nation, whether it’s another natural disaster or a contingency of any other sort, we’re there to do it.

The fact that we were able to maintain that lethality, maintain the ability to be rapidly ready to respond to any situation at any time, maintain our formation capability was really really important.

I thought we were ready, but through this pandemic, it proved that we were ready. I saw people just step up and get after the mission, and it was incredible.

Every day we’re flying airplanes, we’re controlling airplanes, we’re doing what we do. And that’s because we’ve got great airmen.

The way we projected power and stability despite all this has been a great source of comfort on DC, for our partners and allies, and it sends an incredibly strong message to would-be adversaries that we got this.

More than 50,000 service members, which includes more than 4,200 doctors, nurses, and medical personnel currently deployed across the United States working to protect the American people.

When the decision was made to bring those Americans back stateside, one of the bases was JBSA Lackland.

And then that morphed into supporting the Princess Cruise Line passengers who were being evacuated from their cruise ships, pretty much throughout the month of February and March.

So that served as a launching pad for our awareness and our procedural aspect to get laid in place.

The Air Force medical community has responded to COVID-19 in support of the whole of government.

[Virginia] Both our medical teams were fully utilized at different skilled nursing facilities. And then we have also assisted alternate care facilities and setting up protocols.

[Dorothy] We can’t do our job without the partnership that we have with those civilian hospitals. They help us to maintain our currency and competency in some of our medical skills that we can’t get in our direct care system. And so they helped us in our time of need to keep us current and competent. And it’s important for us now to help them in their time of need. And that’s why it’s important for us to partner with them.

We care for our citizenry because we’re there, right, and support of defense of our nation means defense of our citizens, that’s individuals.

Our role in New Jersey is wherever and however we can support the Department of Health and state OEM. The very first thing that we found that they needed was help setting up drive-thru testing sites. We had an airman team in Homedale that did the entire thing from start to finish. They traffic control, testing, paperwork, all of it. They did it right from the beginning.

We’ve been amazed at just the tenacity, the dedication, the professionalism of our medical professionals. And as you know, it’s a stressful time for everybody, but least stressful for all of our healthcare providers and working with our chain of command, we came up with the idea of honoring our local community through a series of flyovers, just to show our support for what they’re doing in a way of saying thank you to all the first responders, medical professionals, healthcare providers are out there every day, battling the outbreak of COVID-19.

I’m really excited ’cause it’s in the local area here where I live. giving support the people who have been helping us out these last few months.

Wherever we can we try to help our allies. And just because the fight isn’t a traditional one doesn’t make it any different.

When we talk about partnership, what were ways that they could stay connected to their partners that they were working with in their particular host nations, even the vast areas that we worked across Europe and Africa.

It’s been a great story with the allies and our support, mutual support for each other. In some cases we were using our gray tails, our AMC airmen to deliver. In some cases we were picking up supplies. It’s really been a great story of the world working together against the common enemy, which is the pandemic, and showing resolve for each other.

[Jimmy] When the allies see our T-Tails, or our big tail flash, land in their nation, know that we are there, that the promise that we made to them, that we are going to partner with their nation and that we are delivering on that promise is a big strategic message.

We are truly in unprecedented times in our nation. The national emergency due to the coronavirus COVID-19 has no doubt brought new changes to the ways Americans go about their daily jobs.

I would have made a list of the challenges I’d had, I don’t know if I would have put a global pandemic in the top five or ten, so you don’t get to choose what you are going to have to respond to.

Over 95 percent of this headquarters was working from home.

You know, what everyone in the Air Force was benefiting from is the use of the collaborate tools.

I’m embracing all the ways (indistinct).

I think what it drove people to do is to think about what exactly do they do day in and day out, and how much of it is actually value added.

And I would offer that what we’ve learned is that many instances, we were actually more productive than we were in the way we were doing normal business.

The intent is to provide an opportunity to get that information in the way that our airmen are used to receiving it. And that is for most of us is our cell phone.

So using technology in order to make sure that information flows up and down the chain of command so that all of our airmen are informed of what’s going on.

I don’t believe we will ever go back to where we were with tele-work.

Not busting holes in our security to enable this collaboration, we’re doing it in a way that we can ensure security of our information and make sure that that doesn’t have negative inputs on our readiness.

And what we have to guard against is not allowing ourselves to just go back to what we were doing before. We have to gain the momentum out of this and continue to move forward.

So my airmen are thinking without the box.

Really it came down to our commanders and our leadership kinda getting together, being innovative, and figuring out how are we going to move forward to keep seeing patients and keeping all of our providers safe?

So that means a lot more talking on the phone, kind of catching with patients, those that have already been established that I’ve been able to see hands on.

[Peter] We knew there was a shortage of N-95 masks early on. We knew that we had ample supplies for our medical folks, but we knew that our first responders didn’t have any. So we prioritized how many that we would need.

As soon as we learned that we could print 3D masks that would help our healthcare professionals out, our defenders, everybody on the front line, instantly all of the 3D printers start going to work 24-7.

We got asked to stand up and deliver a capability in partnership with others to have a way to transport COVID-19 positive airmen, or service members, that were in other locations in our aircraft.

Innovation that did not exist at all prior to COVID-19 responses, the negatively pressurized container, the MPC, and in a smaller version, MPC Lite, one that will fit on a C-17 size aircraft. one that’ll fit on the C-130 sized aircraft.

Just in 30 days, we had a system that we were testing on an aircraft, and that is just lightning speed when you talk about putting something on an aircraft.

[Corey] But the transport isolation system originally designed for Ebola was used in a way with sufficient protective equipment by the medics and the air crew to be used against COVID-19.

Even our ground transporters have found ways to use plexiglass to protect the operators of the buses so that they can continue to transport passengers and our air crews in the back of the bus.

[Brad] Our epidemiology lab has done 50 percent of DOD’s testing. They ran 24-7 for an extended period of time.

It’s the resiliency of our families, our airmen to work through this problem set, stare it straight in the eye, and continue to deliver the mission.

And that takes resilient leadership at every level. And I’m talking from the airman that has to deal with it all the way to the commanders.

The Air Force that will exist in the post-COVID era will be far stronger and far more capable than we were just a few months ago at the beginning of this calendar year.

We talk about what the innovations that occurred, the young staff sergeant that takes an off-the-shelf design for an N-95 mask and starts printing it. Not ’cause he’s told. ‘Cause he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

As we talk about airmen who are proud of who they are, what they do, and they’re running to work, they are running to work in a big way right now and have been during this entire COVID fight.

We could not be more proud of the men and women to continue to deliver even though they themselves are facing this and putting their own families at risk by doing the missions we’re asking them, and then they have to go back home to those families, including our medical personnel that are doing incredible work that we’ve asked them to do.

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