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Airmen adjust schedule and adapt techniques to combat COVID-19

Nomads continue the mission despite reduced flying operations

Airmen assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing prepare an F-35A Lightning II for launch at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, March 25, 2020. The 58th Fighter Squadron and 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit continue to execute the training mission during reduced flying operations due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Amber Litteral)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

Airmen made historical responses over the last few weeks, as wings across  the Air Force adjusted  operations to combat the spread of COVID-19. Maintainers at the 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 33rd Fighter Wing, implemented new work schedules and re-purposed previously learned procedures in their own response to COVID here.

“Half of our squadron is working one week and the other half is working the following week,” said Tech. Sgt. Monica Sue Loss, a 33 AXMS flightline expediter. “We are executing the same amount of sorties as we would during a normal flying schedule.”

Separating the squadron  into two halves and the use of persistent and deliberate sanitation methods can help reduce operational impact if a  team member is exposed to the virus.

“We have been more diligent in regards to hand washing and sanitizing common surfaces and areas that multiple people use,” said Maj. Josephine Beacham, 33rd AMXS commander. 

The use of hand signals, referred to as  Comm-Out procedures, when launching and recovering aircraft provides an added level of protection. Although Comm-Out procedures are typically used in settings where communication channels are unavailable, Airmen on the flightline recognized these procedures already known as part of their core tasks as another means to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“We as leaders are not able to be on the line every day, so it is ideal that the idea to implement Comm-Out procedures came from the flightline all the way to my desk,” said Beacham. “We are trying to empower our Airmen to decide as a group to mitigate risks during difficult times where we are all adjusting to a new normal.”

The use of hand signals allows crew chiefs to communicate with pilots while eliminating the need for headgear and mouthpieces typically used during the aircraft launch and recovery process. 

Beacham says the keys to maintaining operational readiness are to remain engaged and practice good leadership through constant communication.

“This is the time to step up and take care of our Airmen,” said Beacham. “This isn’t something that myself, the chief or the first sergeant can do by themselves. This is a time for us to empower each other... understand the intent of the wing commander, group commander and myself, and that they are carrying that out while also taking care of the Airmen.”

As the crisis evolves, preserving operational readiness of the combat air forces remains the mission of the 33rd Fighter Wing, Air Education and Training Command and Air Force. 

“This is something we haven't navigated before so the Airmen trusting us is imperative,” said Beacham. “Readiness is always going to be critical, especially during this time when we are vulnerable as a nation.” 

The flexibility of military personnel from the flightline to halls of the Pentagon up to the Department of Defense remains paramount for the continued safety and security of our nation.

“We must remember there is still a mission and we have to maintain our operational capabilities,” Beacham said. “It’s a reminder for Airmen to understand that they’re valued and essential because there's a larger reason why we are doing this.”