The Air Force will move to four-week repeating cycles for basic training recruits and test an alternate location to train them, as the service grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, officials said in a statement Thursday.
The changes will reschedule the March 31 arrival date for the next batch of trainees, and decrease the number reporting for training by about a third. The measures come after the service reported Wednesday that it had its first coronavirus case at basic training facilities on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
The Air Force will now bring recruits in based on a four-week repeating cycle. There will be more stringent movement guidelines, dedicated time to deep clean between rotations and testing phases for an alternate basic training location at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
Air Education and Training Command was already combating the virus by divvying up recruits into 40-person batches that were kept separate from other basic training flights during their first two weeks. But a new approach to the training pipeline is being tried out to limit the virus’ spread and preserve barracks capacity, service officials said.
On March 17, the Air Force implemented a plan to bring loads of 650 to 800 students to basic training to enter 14-day restriction of movement phases, or ROMs. During their time in ROM, trainees would complete administrative tasks while practicing social distancing.
The next arrival date under that plan was supposed to be March 31, but that has been shifted. Starting April 7, roughly 460 trainees will arrive at basic training each week.
About 60 trainees will be sent to Keesler Air Force Base to test a “proof of concept” for the new location, the Air Force said.
“We are deliberately developing options to disperse the delivery of BMT during contingencies to provide surge capacity and introduce agility into the training pipeline construct,” said Maj. Gen. Andrea Tullos, Second Air Force commander.
The plan will be put in place over the next 180 days. While it can be used beyond that, it’s not intended to be a lasting program, said Tullos.
All basic training graduation events will remain private and closed to the public, with Thursday graduation ceremonies being livestreamed on the Air Force’s basic military training Facebook page instead.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.