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Dynamic response keeps AFGSC mission ready during pandemic

Rangers of the flightline

Senior Airman River Wilson, 2nd Maintenance Squadron Aerospace Ground Equipment Flight mechanic, installs a tire to a cowling trailer at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 8, 2019. The 2nd MXS AGE flight performs 170 to 190 scheduled inspections a month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stuart Bright)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --

With the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, the world is facing incredible challenges, upending routine daily life. Despite the uncertainty this pandemic brings, Air Force Global Strike Command continues to deliver combat-ready long-range strike forces to provide deterrence options at a moment’s notice - anytime, anywhere.

“Rest assured, we have taken the necessary steps to make sure our bomber and ICBM forces are ready to go and can reach any target on the planet at any time,” said Gen. Tim Ray, AFGSC commander. “We are fully mission ready and COVID-19 will not change that. Our forces continue to maintain an extremely high level of readiness and responsiveness.”

Keeping the 34,000 Airmen and civilians who make up the command healthy, alongside their families, has placed additional focus on deliberated decision making processes at the installation level; particularly how to respond in the face of an unprecedented outbreak, and how to maintain the ability to project and remain the Nation’s global strike force.

The collaborative effort, across the entire Department of Defense, to ensure the command is ready every single minute of the day, has been a herculean effort spanning months.

In January, installation Public Health teams were directed to review their disease containment plans as a result of the emerging novel- coronavirus, thus providing installation commanders the necessary medical advice they needed to best address their local conditions.

Mid-February would see internal communication planning well underway, while in late February planning was progressing for remote operations and teleworking in order to maintain capability.

In March, an emphasis was placed on identifying lessons learned, best practices and potential concerns following command direction to exercise all crisis response measures via installation table-top exercises.

“We get paid to do this mission under all conditions. Not just some, but all conditions,” said Ray. “This is a terrible set of circumstances, but we have to be prepared to do this job under far worse circumstances. It’s in times like these where you see how good of a leadership team you have, and how well the people at every level of the organization perform.”

Given the global nature of the pandemic, the stability of the command matters not just for the country, but also to our partners and allies. To meet these ends, Strikers took the necessary precautions to assure that long-range precision operations remain ready at a moment’s notice.

Bomber operations continue as bomber wings train and fly sorties daily, while leadership teams continuously meet with medical experts to identify all risk points for pilots, aircrew, maintainers and support Airmen.

Missile operations continue as America’s most responsive nuclear-alert force adjusts to operating with certain degrees of isolation, keeping teams separate in order to ensure that the nation’s ICBMs remain on alert, and that vital command and control capability remains viable.

“We have to remain connected while keeping our social distance and in the 21st century that is completely doable,” said Ray. “We have to leverage technology and the innovative nature of our Air Force, our Airmen and our Striker culture.”

For medical personnel in the command, leveraging technology took the form of using telehealth capabilities to meet patients’ care needs, while minimizing healthcare-worker’s exposure. Likewise, pick-up pharmacy services reduced the volume of face-to-face prescription pickups, while also substantially decreasing the average wait time. The success of these measures led to discussions on future use, even in a post-COVID environment, to make the command’s mission more effective and resilient.

Leadership teams leveraged technology to place focus on families. Communication is virtual, affording individuals and teams the ability to get creative with how they keep internal and external communities informed and cohesive, leveraging everything from virtual worship services and app-based daily self-care tips, to electronic sports leagues and installation commander virtual town halls.

Forward thinking and innovative mindsets by leaders and teams at all levels drove the command’s dynamic response to COVID-19. In doing so, AFGSC is setting a pace that it can maintain for a long time to come.  

“Protecting our people is first and foremost,” added Ray. “People in the command are well connected to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Our nation is going to need to work its way through the aftermath of this, but when everything else is unstable, our force will remain a source of stability. This stability is crucial to enabling America’s other missions, from statecraft to economic, military to trade.”