The Air Force said Tuesday that family members or other guests will not be allowed to attend basic military graduation ceremonies until further notice, as part of several steps the service is taking to limit the spread of coronavirus.
In a release, Air Education and Training Command said that Joint Base San Antonio in Texas is suspending guests at all mass gatherings that are not mission-essential to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. This includes basic military training graduations, AETC said, as well as preliminary events such as coining ceremonies that families would have been invited to.
“Each year, about 40,000 airmen march across the parade field with up to 7,000 family members in attendance each week for the momentous occasion,” Maj. Gen. Andrea Tullos, commander of the 2nd Air Force, said in the release. “Gatherings of this size increase the possibility that the virus could be transmitted to our training population.”
“We realize families want to show support to their loved one and they will be disappointed they can’t participate in the graduation events, but we have a responsibility to protect not only our airmen but those citizens they will come into contact with as they travel to their follow-on training locations," Tullos continued.
The Air Force’s decision to limit attendance at BMT graduation mirrors the Navy’s announcement yesterday to restrict guest attendance at graduation ceremonies for its boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois.
“It is our responsibility to keep our force, our families and our base communities safe,” Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman, commander of the 502nd Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio, said in AETC’s release. “These force health protection actions are necessary to ensure mission readiness for our forces and their families.”
BMT graduations will be livestreamed on the 37th Training Wing’s Facebook page every Friday, beginning this week, at 9 a.m. Central time. Joint Base San Antonio is also posting updates on COVID-19 on its website.
“This is a prudent decision to protect our people and the community in which we live and work,” Maj. Gen. John DeGoes, commander of the 59th Medical Wing at the base. “Infectious disesases don’t respect the fence line and these actions make sense to protect us and our neighbors.”
In a separate email Tuesday, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek outlined additional actions the Air Force is taking. The child development center at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, for example, has also been closed for cleaning after a parent of a child there tested positive for coronavirus.
The Air Force Academy has restricted travel for cadets and personnel through the end of March, academy spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko said in another email Tuesday. This includes no overseas official travel and no leisure travel for cadets, cadet candidates and military permanent party to countries that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined are a level 2 threat or higher for COVID-19.
“While the risk of COVID-19 at the academy continues to be low, this is a rapidly evolving situation and force health protection is our top priority,” Bunko said. “We will continue to evaluate the situation and take proactive steps to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19.”
A Level 2 travel health notice, which now applies only to Japan, means that a nation is facing an ongoing community transmission of COVID-19. The CDC recommends that older adults or those with chronic medical conditions consider postponing their travel to those areas. Level 3 travel health notices, which nations including South Korea, China and Italy are under, are those with widespread ongoing transmission of COVID-19. The CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to those locations, and said travelers returning from those nations should stay home for 14 days and practice social distancing.
Stefanek said all Department of the Air Force personnel have been directed to follow the CDC’s travel guidance.
And after the decision to cancel the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, the Air Force has decided to hold its Spark Collider and Pitch Bowl events virtually on March 12, Stefanek said. Those events were originally planned to take place in Austin this week.
And Pentagon officials have begun “social distancing” measures, including breaking up Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s regular meeting with more than 40 senior staff up into three rooms. The rooms in that meeting were connected via video-teleconferencing, and participants sat several feet from one another.
Travis Air Force Base in California, Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, and Dobbins Air Reserve base are currently housing passengers from the Princess Cruise ship, Stefanek said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.