U.S. Pacific Air Forces has issued a waiver for unaccompanied short tour assignments for PACAF airmen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a memo obtained by Air Force Times.
Although the Pentagon issued a stop movement order that has limited travel for service members and temporarily suspended almost all permanent-change-of-station moves due to the virus, the command has issued a waiver loosening restrictions for some PACAF airmen.
“I have determined Rotational Assignments for PACAF Airmen on Unaccompanied Short Tour assignments to and from the Republic of Korea, Diego Garcia, Wake Island, Eareckson, and Okuma to be mission essential,” PACAF commander Gen. Charles Brown Jr. said in the memo to unit and wing commanders last month.
“Additionally, this waiver authorizes PACAF airmen with Unaccompanied Short tour Assignments to locations outside PACAF to proceed on those assignments contingent on gaining command approval,” he said.
Brown laid out several stipulations commanders must follow, including coordinating with gaining commanders to verify bases can accommodate the new airmen; confirming projected arrivals can depart from their home base given the current local conditions and capacity at that home base; among several other precautions.
Additionally, Brown said that the “primary consideration” to keep in mind while prioritizing assignments is the original date of expected return from overseas, and the report no later than date. Even so, Brown said commanders have the ability to deviate from the order in order to boost readiness, alleviate hardship, or in cases where locations don’t have the capacity, to take on incoming airmen.
“The intent of the waiver is to start moving airmen with unaccompanied tours in order to facilitate members reuniting with their families as close to possible to their original date of expected return from overseas (DEROS),” PACAF spokeswoman Maj. Victoria Hight said in an email to Air Force Times.
“This is part of larger Air Force effort to facilitate movement of those fulfilling unaccompanied short tour assignments, so without their family members for at least 12 months in an overseas location,” Hight said.
The waiver was issued on April 27 — just over a week after the Pentagon announced its stop movement order was extended through the end of June. The stop movement order was first issued in March and was set to expire on May 11.
The Pentagon’s updated order permitted exemptions for cases, including deployments within combatant commands and basic training. Likewise, the Pentagon said waivers may be issued in cases where travel is determined mission essential, necessary for humanitarian reasons, or warranted due to extreme hardship.
Defense Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan told reporters April 18 that waivers would be more generous under the extension, and noted that the services were “queued up and ready” to start approving PCS moves on a case-by-case basis.
Brown, who has been the commander of PACAF since July 2018, was nominated in March to serve as the chief of staff of the Air Force and is slated to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday for a confirmation hearing. If confirmed, Brown would replace Gen. Dave Goldfein.