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192nd Wing Airmen stand ready, adapt to COVID-19 as JBLE flying mission continues

VaANG Airmen protect aircraft, citizens under hurricane threat

Airmen assigned to the 192nd Fighter Wing recover F-22 fighter jets following their return from Ohio Sept. 16, 2018, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. The jets were sent away several days earlier due to the threat of Hurricane Florence. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Johnisa Roberts)

Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. --

Approximately 20 Virginia National Guard Airmen assigned to the 192nd Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis are supporting Virginia’s COVID-19 response as of April 6, 2020. Airmen also continue to work with their 1st Fighter Wing active-duty counterparts to slow the virus’s spread while continuing daily operations to launch, receive and maintain the F-22 Raptor fleet.

“It is definitely a challenge to maintain mission readiness during this pandemic. So in addition to maximizing social distancing and other protective measures, we have maximize remote operations and other telework options to mitigate the risks to our airmen. Throughout it all, our Airmen have shown amazing flexibility and resilience. I’m extremely proud of their efforts,” said Col. Mark D. Piper, 192nd Wing commander. “Our forces at JBLE are unique in that they’re completely integrated to support the federal mission. This is what we do! As Guardsmen, we are trained to support both state and federal missions, especially during times of crisis.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in early March which activated the Virginia National Guard to support COVID-19 response efforts. The Airmen from the 192nd Wing are contributing to the larger VNG’s effort to assist the Virginia Emergency Support Team with operations, logistics and medical planning. Readiness for both the state and federal missions are priority as the VNG is postured to bring additional personnel on duty subject to the needs of the Commonwealth.

When Tech. Sgt. Robert McCormick comes home after his shift at the 94th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, he walks in through the garage and then the laundry room where he can take off his boots and immediately throw his uniform into the washer. It’s the new reality for Airmen, who like McCormick, are mission-critical during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a full-time flightline expediter with the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, it’s up to supervisors like McCormick to ensure Airmen are adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“We’re keeping groups out of the trucks we drive up and down the flightline,” said McCormick. “During launches, you’ll have the expediter in the driver seat and a 7-level [crew chief] in the back seat to maintain distance.”

McCormick added, the 94th AMU has also transitioned to a single-point entry where one person, selected during each shift, sits with hand sanitizer and ensures high traffic areas like countertops and door handles are cleaned with a disinfectant solution several times an hour. More than 60 VaANG Airmen are totally integrated with their active duty counterparts at the 94th where they’ve also gone to working bi-weekly schedules as a means to decrease the number of people coming into the building every day.

The alternative schedule is also beneficial at the 27th Fighter Squadron, located further down the flightline. Senior Master Sgt. Mark Gilligan is the 192nd Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight superintendent and said working one week at a time provides continuity for four VaANG Airmen who are continuing mission-essential skills training after returning from technical school.

“When [the trainees] are here in person, they’re doing their hands-on technical training,” said Gilligan. “Then, when they’re remote, they’re concentrating on their career development courses, computer-based training, an//d any certifications they might need specific to our Air Force specialty code.”

Although in-person regularly scheduled drill had been prohibited for the wing for April and May, Gilligan’s flight was among those who performed drill remotely. Facilitated by a dedicated training manager, the flight’s drill-status Guardsmen were able to accomplish ancillary training over the weekend and maintained 100 percent readiness.

The 192nd Wing’s Director of Psychological Health, Judy Crow, is also taking steps to ensure members’ medical readiness during a time she said could be a source for increased stress and anxiety in most people.

“For each person, the pandemic is affecting them differently,” Crow explained. “It can affect their job, their financial readiness...and then, their mental health because there’s a lot of unknown.”

In addition to continuing physical health assessment questionnaire screenings, Crow has partnered with the Airman and Family Readiness Program to create a guide to specific resources and has recently been authorized the option for military members to access her services through telehealth, or counseling appointments over video chat.

While parents are working remotely and homeschooling their children, and single Airmen have to work harder to stay connected to others, Crow said she’s encouraging military members to focus on the things within their control.

“Very few of us like to live with uncertainty, so we have to focus on those things we can do to keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy,” she said. “I’m here for any military member to call -- and it doesn’t need to be a big deal. Sometimes you just need to call for some support.”

Crow is available by phone at 757-764-6197. Find the guide for Airmen affected by COVID-19 on the 192nd Wing app, or here: https://bit.ly/33RZ07H

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