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The mission continues amidst the war on COVID-19

Pilot in F-16 cockpit

U.S. Air Force Maj. Jordan Wilkie, pilot,120th Fighter Squadron, 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, prepares to launch an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft for a practice alert scramble at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora Colorado, March 31, 2020. Practice scrambles help pilots and crews develop essential skills and build proficiency throughout their training. While many members of the 140th Wing are currently under a stay-at-home order and teleworking due to the COVID-19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history. (Photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Jordan Wilkie, pilot,120th Fighter Squadron, 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, prepares to launch an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft for a practice alert scramble at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora Colorado, March 31, 2020. Practice scrambles help pilots and crews develop essential skills and build proficiency throughout their training. While many members of the 140th Wing are currently under a stay-at-home order and teleworking due to the COVID-19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.

Maintenance airman working with mask on

U.S. Master Sgt. Eric Foster, a 140th Wing weapons expediter, is screening jobs to determine what maintenance is required so his troops can install a LAU-129 missile launcher, at Buckley Air Force Base, 7 April, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

Pilot in cockpit

Denise Gilbert, an air traffic assistant from the 140th operations support squadron, airfield management section, ensures airfield readiness as part of the mission essential personnel who are covering critical missions at Buckley Air Force Base while many members are ordered to work from home because of the Corona Virus pandemic, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

Base Operations controller working on computer

Denise Gilbert, an air traffic assistant from the 140th operations support squadron, airfield management section, ensures airfield readiness as part of the mission essential personnel who are covering critical missions at Buckley Air Force Base while many members are ordered to work from home because of the Corona Virus pandemic, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

ATC Tower controller talking on radio

Chuck Grube, air traffic manager at Buckley Air Force Base, is part of the mission essential personnel who are covering critical missions at Buckley Air Force Base while many members are ordered to work from home because of the Corona Virus pandemic, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

ATC Tower controller looking through binoculars

Kirsten Sunblade, an air traffic controller at Buckley Air Force Base, is part of the mission essential personnel who are covering critical missions at Buckley Air Force Base while many members are ordered to work from home because of the Corona Virus pandemic, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

Security Forces Airman in front of truck

Airman 1st Class Haley Gileau, a security forces specialist with the 140th Wing, guards an entry control point outside of air sovereignty alert as part of the mission essential personnel who are covering critical missions at Buckley Air Force Base while many members are ordered to work from home because of the Corona Virus pandemic, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

Jet taxiing

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Kennedy, a crew chief with the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, salutes an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, piloted by Capt. Phillip Butler, 120th Fighter Squadron, as it taxis for a practice alert scramble that is intended to enhance proficiency training for pilots and crew members at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

F-16 taxiing out of hangar
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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Kennedy, a crew chief with the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, launches an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, piloted by Capt. Phillip Butler, 120th Fighter Squadron, for a practice alert scramble that is intended to enhance proficiency training for pilots and crew members at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

F-16 taking off
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An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 120th Fighter Squadron, piloted by Capt. Phillip Butler, performs a fly-by maneuver over the runway after returning from a practice alert scramble that is intended to enhance proficiency training for pilots and crew of the unit at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)er)

F-16 in alert hangar
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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt.’s Elizabeth Kennedy and Christopher Jones, crew chiefs with the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, prepare an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, piloted by Capt. Phillip Butler, 120th Fighter Squadron, for a practice alert scramble that is intended to enhance proficiency training for pilots and crew members at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

F-16 flying
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An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 120th Fighter Squadron, piloted by Capt. Phillip Butler, performs a fly-by maneuver over the runway after returning from a practice alert scramble that is intended to enhance proficiency training for pilots and crew of the unit at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

F-16 flying
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An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 120th Fighter Squadron, piloted by Capt. Phillip Butler, performs a fly-by maneuver over the runway after returning from a practice alert scramble that is intended to enhance proficiency training for pilots and crew of the unit at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

F-16 taking off over Buckley AFB
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An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 120th Fighter Squadron, piloted by Capt. Phillip Butler, performs a fly-by maneuver over the runway after returning from a practice alert scramble that is intended to enhance proficiency training for pilots and crew of the unit at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

Two F-16s taxiing up to runway
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Two F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 120th Fighter Squadron, taxi towards the runway during a practice alert scramble that is intended to enhance proficiency training for pilots and crew of the unit at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

Pilot gives thumbs up in cockpit
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U.S. Air Force Maj. Jordan Wilkie, a pilot from the 120th Fighter Squadron, 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, taxis in an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft for a practice alert scramble in order to practice essential skills and perform proficiency training for pilots and crew of the unit at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., March 31, 2020. While many members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, are currently under a stay-at-home order due to the COVID19 virus, there are still a number of essential employees who are keeping the mission going during this unprecedented time in our nation's history.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Since Sept. 11, 2001, members of the Colorado Air National Guard’s 140th Wing have been on alert, defending the homeland against airborne threats with their fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft staged at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, Colorado.

When COVID-19 turned the nation’s normal way of life upside down, the Aerospace Control Alert mission remains steadfast and unchanged.

“ACA is a 24/7 mission that we must execute no matter how distracting world events become,” U.S. Air Force Col. Kurt Tongren, commander, 140th Operations Group said. “America’s enemies never rest, and neither do we.”

It takes a team of professionals to support the alert mission, Tongren said. A maintenance crew, air traffic control tower operators, security forces defenders and pilots are on duty to ensure the alert mission is always ready.

To ensure the right people are on the job, the wing relies on U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Steven Richardson, alert chief enlisted manager, 140th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who has been with the wing since before the ACA mission was born.

“It is my responsibility to ensure that we have appropriate manning to operate a 24/7 mission and a schedule for all of our mission essential alert personnel that will maximize their abilities while also taking care of the member’s personal life and health,” Richardson said.

Because the mission requires these Airmen to be on base together, they take all possible precautions to stay healthy and keep the virus out of the ACA community.

“By far, the biggest challenge is staying isolated and separated from our co-workers while continuing to perform our daily alert tasks, to include flying practice scrambles,” Tongren said. “But the alert team is finding ways to make it work.”

Richardson developed a plan to minimize the number of personnel needed during each shift and altered the schedule to decrease the frequency of swap outs in order to lessen the members’ exposure. The 140th Force Support Squadron (services) members are also providing four hot meals per day to the alert members to further preserve their health.

“It’s been a unique challenge coming up with ways to continue the mission and preserve the team’s health,” Richardson said. “But we have a strong plan in place, and contingency plans for all foreseeable issues that could arise.”

While the world is changing and our adversaries continue to pose a threat to the United States and our allies, Richardson said, the need to defend our homeland has never been more essential.

“Everyone seems to be ready and willing to do whatever it takes to make the mission happen,” Richardson said. “They work hard every day to provide mission-ready F-16s to defend our nation should we be called upon.”

Despite drastically reduced operations on the base, the ACA team continues to fly training missions periodically throughout the week to maintain currency and ensure their ability to respond at a moment’s notice.

“We hope that when our communities see and hear these alert jets flying around the state, they will feel a sense of pride and solidarity knowing that even though our nation is facing a challenging time, we are still strong and we will get through this together,” Tongren said.

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