The commander of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska on Oct. 8 forbid active-duty airmen from the base’s 673rd Air Base Wing from entering indoor bars or other alcohol-serving businesses in an effort to stem a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.
Col. Kirsten Aguilar, head of the base and the 673rd, issued the restriction in a memo, obtained by Air Force Times, to the wing’s personnel that day. Aguilar also said in the memo that airmen from that wing who continue to patronize those businesses — defined as “establishments that primarily engage in preparing and serving alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption” — can be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
That list includes breweries, pubs and nightclubs.
“We must continue to safeguard the population and observe the installation’s public health guidance and we must remain vigilant by reducing our exposure and movement when not necessary,” Aguilar wrote. “This is a priority for our mission.”
Elmendorf confirmed the veracity of the memo. In an email Wednesday, spokeswoman Erin Eaton said Aguilar’s decision was in response to a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Alaska, as well as in Anchorage and at the base itself.
“The health and safety of our military personnel is paramount to maintaining mission readiness in defense of our nation, and we’re making these changes based on data to keep ourselves and our community safe,” Eaton said.
Aguilar said in the memo that airmen can order food or alcohol from such businesses, as long as they use curbside or touchless pickup, or other pickup or delivery services.
Aguilar said the restriction will be reviewed within 30 days of its imposition, to see if it needs to be extended, added to, or removed in response to how the pandemic situation evolves. She also encouraged civilians and dependents to follow those restrictions “for their own personal safety and the safety of our community.”
Eaton said that Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has issued at least three emergency orders over the last four months concerning bars and other similar businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic. These orders included limitations on how many people can gather indoor at alcohol-serving businesses.
But Elmendorf has decided to go beyond what Anchorage has required to be safe, Eaton said.
“As a precaution, 673rd ABW leadership has gone a step further in an attempt to protect airmen of the 673rd Air Base Wing by imposing temporary command restrictions,” Eaton said.
Commanders have the authority to deem certain areas off-limits “to help maintain good order and discipline and an appropriate level of good health, morale, safety, morals and welfare of armed forces personnel,” Eaton said.
And when there is sufficient cause, she said, commanders have “substantial discretion” to temporarily restrict personnel from going to certain establishments or areas.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic,” Eaton said. “This decision was made based on data and inputs from the medical team through their contact tracing efforts, and through base leadership’s evaluation of risk.”
Eaton said that Aguilar sent the memo in her role as commander of the 673rd and that the restrictions only apply to that wing’s personnel. That means personnel assigned to U.S. Army Alaska and airmen from the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf are not subject to the restrictions.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.