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Precautions Protect Air Force Trainees From COVID-19

April 10, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The Air Force is taking a proactive approach to reduce the risk of trainees contracting COVID-19, a top Air Force general said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Marshall B. "Brad" Webb, commander of the Air Education and Training Command, told Pentagon reporters by telephone today about the new approach the Air Force is using to conduct a variety of training during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group of people in blue military uniforms salute while in formation.
Graduation Salute
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Donald Weaver, a training instructor with the 320th Training Squadron, leads his flight with a salute during an Air Force basic military training graduation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, March 19, 2020. The airmen are currently practicing social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Johnny Saldivar, Air Force
VIRIN: 200319-F-YQ806-0098

To help maintain social distancing, Webb said, the Air Force is accepting only 460 new trainees per week instead of the usual 600 to 800. In addition, starting with those who arrived March 17 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, enlisted basic trainees are under restricted movement in their first 14 days and have no contact with trainees who started training after that 14-day period, he noted.

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No new recruits reported to basic military training last week, he said, and that will continue until the Air Force has had time to implement new procedures to protect against COVID-19. This period of time was also needed to sanitize dormitories, dining facilities and other spaces, he added.

The Air Force has implemented medical screening at both initial entry and at the end of the two-week period of restricted movement, Webb told reporters.

Airmen maintain social distancing as they move in single file.
Social Distance
Air Force basic training graduates practice social distancing as they prepare to board a commercial aircraft at Joint Base San Antonio-Kelly Annex, Texas, to move on to the next phase of their training, April 3, 2020.
Photo By: Sarayuth Pinthong, Air Force
VIRIN: 200403-F-GY993-008

Basic training has been shortened from eight and a half weeks to seven weeks to maximize training effectiveness and space utilization, the general said, achieved by spending less  time on drill and ceremony training and streamlining the process of issuing uniforms.

Basic training is also being conducted at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, starting this week, to help in increasing social distancing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, which had been the Air Force's sole basic training venue, he said.

Four firefighters spray a fire with hoses.
Fire Training
Air Force firefighters from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Fire Department put out a fire in a relocatable barrack during training in Southwest Asia, April 7, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Alexandria Brun
VIRIN: 200406-Z-ZD325-0022

After basic training, airmen receive technical training in one of their 265 military occupational specialties at 78 locations across the United States and a few overseas locations. Commanders at these technical training sites have been directed to similarly modify their courses to reduce the risk of COVID-19, Webb said.

Modifications include splitting training into shifts to reduce class sizes, using distance learning more often, and moving classrooms outdoors, he noted. Training that can only be done in close quarters or large groups has been deferred.

Two women sit across a desk chatting.
Training Chat
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jocilyn Grable, an instructor with the 507th Air Refueling Wing, prepares trainee Tram Hoang for her departure to basic military training at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., April 7, 2020.
Photo By: Lauren Kelly, Air Force
VIRIN: 200407-F-EW270-1014

Officer Training School at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Alabama, has adopted the same procedures as enlisted basic training, the general said. Meanwhile, he added, ROTC cadets are completing their training through distance learning, and recruiters are using innovative social media techniques to communicate with prospective airmen. The Air Force may retain aspects of distance learning and social distancing necessitated by the pandemic in its training after the pandemic is over, Webb added.

As of today, the Air Force had only five cases of COVID-19 among trainees and none among instructors, he said, crediting that to the precautions the Air Force is taking.