Commentary

Airmen and space professionals fight COVID-19

If ever there was a time to say thank you to the men and women in the Department of the Air Force and their families, this is the moment.

The United States Air and Space Forces, like other branches of the military, train with a focus and commitment that makes them ready, capable and professional. Those core qualities contribute mightily to the COVID-19 fight.

COVID-19 arrived and quickly erupted into a pandemic. Characteristically, the Department of the Air Force swung into action supporting America’s response.

Air and space professionals supported U.S. Northern Command, the military lead in the U.S., as well as U.S. Transportation Command, the military global lift for people and medical supplies.

Those commands work through the Department of Defense as part of a national team that includes the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all in support of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Air National Guard members, America’s hometown Airmen, communicate directly with local leaders on the frontlines of every state and territory.

Airmen and space professionals teamed with others involved in the COVID-19 response from the earliest days of the crisis. When the virus struck in China, Americans who were evacuated from the consulate in Wuhan and other COVID hotspots, were housed at air bases including Travis, March and Lackland.

Since mid-March, Air Mobility Command has airlifted critical medical supplies for distribution throughout our country and repatriated Americans from around the world on Air Force aircraft.

Within 48 hours of notification, the Air Force Reserve mobilized medical professionals to fight COVID-19 in New York City hospitals while Air National Guardsman assisted with mortuary needs in areas overwhelmed by the ravages of the virus. In Vermont, Air and Army Guardsmen built a 400-bed overflow hospital in just over four days. Similar efforts continue across the nation.

In addition to medical care, constructing field hospitals, and airlifting critical supplies, Airmen and space professionals pitched in on ordinary tasks from staffing call centers and drive-thru COVID-19 testing stations to delivering meals to school students at home.

This is simply what your Department of the Air Force does when the nation calls.

Meanwhile, national security missions continue. Today, as every day, crews are on nuclear alert, flying combat missions, operating the nation’s critical space capabilities and much more. Air and Space professionals remain engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula and other parts of the globe.

America’s newest service, the Space Force even launched a crucial communications satellite, the AEHF-6 — the first since the service was established in December. Also, the Department’s fail-safe management of ICBM and bomber forces continued uninterrupted, albeit with precautions to protect personnel from COVID-19.

Basic training continues at Lackland and now Keesler Air Force Base, though again, with CDC-compliant protocols to safeguard the health and safety of recruits and instructors. Protective guidelines also restrict movement and mandate deep cleaning of buildings, surfaces, and locations between trainee rotations. Amidst the pandemic, 963 new lieutenants will commission at the United States Air Force Academy, including 86 who chose to serve in the U.S. Space Force.

These few examples demonstrate the eager flexibility of the Air and Space Forces during this crisis. Supported in no small part by their resilient families, they reassure, comfort, and inspire when our nation is most in need.

For your heroic achievements at this challenging time . . . air and space professionals, we thank you.

Barbara Barrett is the Secretary of the Air Force.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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