WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Vince Lombardi once said, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”
Here, at Whiteman Air Force Base, the precautions implemented by each unit and the actions of every individual are crucial to the success of limiting the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus.
Since the World Health Organization first declared a public health emergency, Jan. 30, Team Whiteman has diligently established safeguards to slow the transmission of COVID-19, ensure the health of individuals on base and the continuation of the Air Force Global Strike Command’s mission.
“My leadership team is approaching this in terms of life-sustaining and mission critical functions,” said Col. Jeffrey Schreiner, the 509th Bomb Wing commander. “The mix of personnel, the shifts they work, and time off involved will change over time as we adapt to the changing environment. We must face this challenge head-on and we must continue to fly the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber and maintain our readiness—our nation depends on us to do so.”
On March 19, facilities and units across Whiteman AFB made proactive changes to limit the number of people on base in an effort to stop possible person-to-person transmission of the virus.
“The COVID-19 outbreak, though it has unique challenges, is just another adversity that we at Whiteman are adept at managing and overcoming,” said Lt. Col. Robert Schoeneberg, the 393rd Bomb Squadron commander. “You are witnessing the finest problem-solving teams working tirelessly to ensure our freedom remains secure. Our efforts to minimize contact points in the 393rd BS, infuse medical expertise, telework, adapt procedures, sanitize and efficiently man our teams to ensure combat readiness, is just a small example of what our service men and women are trained to do every day.”
According to Tech. Sgt. Justin Stinson, 393rd Bomb Squadron medical element flight chief, the flying squadrons worked hand in hand with public health professionals to establish a program that does not hinder the mission, but also mitigates the transmission of COVID-19.
“We all agreed that providing daily advanced screenings was one way we could limit the spread of the virus. We screen all members, military and civilian, prior to entering the threshold of the 393rd,” said Stinson. “We also purchased bleach and spray bottles to do daily disinfecting of all high-traffic areas within the squadron. We also worked closely with the maintenance leadership to find ways to practice good social distancing.”
With the 393rd BS working in close proximity with members of the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, the units took special considerations and precautions to minimize the opportunity for transmission between the two groups.
“The current procedures we’ve worked out with the operations squadrons ensures they will do their best to sanitize the crew station in between sorties to minimize exposure to incoming aircrew,” said Maj. Michael Rivera, the 509th AMXS operations officer. “At the end of fly day, maintenance personnel are performing sanitation procedures to protect the air and maintenance crews from cross contaminating one another.”
To prevent transmission, the maintainers use personal protective equipment, like face masks, when they need to troubleshoot or perform tasks with large teams in tight quarters and take extra precautions when sanitizing shared equipment between uses. The 509th AMXS also altered the debriefing process so it can be completed over headsets to limit contact between the maintainers and pilots.
While individual unit and section commanders have made changes to manning and operations to minimize interpersonal contact, the 509th Medical Group has been at the front lines ensuring Airmen and their families stay healthy and can access critical services.
“Overall cleanliness is usually not an issue here at Whiteman,” said Airman 1st Class Cameron Benjamin, a 509th Medical Operations Squadron public health technician. “But we have enforced a set of standards to limit and contain the spread of the virus.”
Some of the COVID-19 safety measures the 509th MDOS enforced across Whiteman AFB include no public-dinning spaces, single directional traffic through establishments and have advised individual squadrons on performing in-house screenings. The 509th MDG also implemented a curb-side pharmacy refill service, drive-up virus testing and increased use of virtual appointments.
“The 509th MDG has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 response,” said Maj. Kallyn Harencak, 509th MDG chief of aerospace medicine. “The public health office works 24-hour operations to ensure we are tracking positive cases, patients tested, and all of their contacts to help limit the spread of COVID-19. We’ve worked hard to advise wing leadership and ensure Airmen understand the gravity of the situation and how easily the virus is spread.”
Although safeguards were established to slow the spread of COVID-19 across Whiteman AFB, a suspected case involving an employee resulted in the temporary closure of the Child Development Center and Youth Center.
On March 27, Child Development Center staff and the Public Health office worked together to disinfect the building and notify all the parents of children who may have been in contact with the employee.
“As we combat the challenges of COVID-19, we need to make decisions with the safety of Team Whiteman in mind,” said Lt. Col. Jacob Wygant, the 509th Force Support Squadron commander. “The decision to close the Child Development Center and the Youth Center was not easy, but it is an appropriate step to safeguard our families and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
As units across Whiteman AFB continue to evolve their procedures to help curb the spread of COVID-19, leaders believe it is important for everyone to do their part in preventing transmission.
“Our efforts have been largely successful, as case rates amongst the base’s population have stayed low thus far,” said Harencak. “We will continue to monitor virus trends and advise base leadership as the state of Missouri starts to reopen public services. It’s imperative we not lose sight of the fact that preventive measures are still required, perhaps even more so, as we slowly return to baseline operations.”
Every member of Team Whiteman can be proactive in slowing the spread of COVID-19 by continuing to practice good social distancing and hygiene.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of many people across the United States, the American people can rest assured that Team Whiteman has taken every precaution to ensure it is mission ready.