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Esper Gets Firsthand Look at Air Force Basic Training Amid Pandemic

June 17, 2020 | BY Air Force 1st Lt. Kayshel Trudell

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper visited Air Force basic military training cadre and recruits, as well as members of the Air Force Recruiting Service, for a firsthand look at how the service transforms citizens into airmen.

An airman and a civilian talk in a tent city as another airman stands a safe distance between them. All are wearing face masks.
Esper and Webb
Air Force Lt. Col. Joey Tortella, 902nd Civil Engineer Squadron commander, briefs Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper and Air Force Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command, during a tour of Air Force basic military training’s basic expeditionary airfield resources base at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, June 16, 2020. Esper met with Air Education and Training Command leaders to see firsthand how basic military training is fighting through COVID-19 with health protection measures in place and adapting operations to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. The visit also allowed him to witness how a citizen becomes an airman during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Johnny Saldivar, Air Force
VIRIN: 200616-F-YQ806-0273C

Esper, accompanied on yesterday's visit by Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón "CZ" Colón-López, observed how the 37th Training Wing, with the support of a tri-wing partnership with the 502nd Air Base Wing and 59th Medical Wing, has protected airmen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The traveling party adhered to all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Defense Department social distancing guidelines to ensure protection of their health and those around them.

"The basic military training mission remains absolutely vital to renew our air and space forces and underwrites our ability to defend the nation and deliver air and space power any time, any place," Esper said. "The entire team here has demonstrated what fighting through COVID-19 looks like with flexibility and tenacity, ensuring the safety of the recruiting, training and education pipeline."

The first stop was at Basic Military Training's Pfingston Reception Center for an overview of Gateway Wing operations and an in-depth look at how officials have adjusted operations amid the pandemic to continue developing the airmen needed to ensure readiness, including restriction of movement implementation, person-under-investigation and isolation operations.

A civilian seated at a table talks with airmen during a working lunch.
Esper Meeting
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper, center, meets with noncommissioned and company grade officers for a working lunch during a tour of the Pfingston Reception Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, June 16, 2020. Esper met with Air Education and Training Command leaders to see firsthand how basic military training is fighting through COVID-19 with health protection measures in place and adapting operations to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. The visit also allowed him to witness how a citizen becomes an airman during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Sarayuth Pinthong, Air Force
VIRIN: 200616-F-GY993-017C

More than 34,500 airmen will graduate from Air Force basic training in fiscal year 2020, and the wing has graduated more than 8,500 airmen since March 16, when the service first implemented a 14-day restriction of movement protocol for new accessions arriving to training. Since May 19, 100% of new recruits have been tested, and the training campus has been realigned to prevent interaction of airmen in different weeks of training.

"Two of our top priorities during COVID-19 have been the safety of our people and ensuring the mission of national security continues," Esper said. "The rapid implementation of safety protocols here has been extremely successful on both of these fronts, thanks to the partnership of health experts and the BMT team."

Military training instructors and cadre had the opportunity to discuss BMT's tempo, successes and ways forward with Esper before taking him on a walkthrough of new trainee in-processing, daily operations at an airman training complex, as well as the Reid Clinic, where the 59th Medical Wing conducts BMT medical support operations.

An airman briefs a civilian as basic trainees stand beside their bunks.
Esper Tour
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sarah Mitchell, 323rd Training Squadron military training instructor, briefs Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper during his tour of the 323rd Training Squadron’s airman training complex at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, June 16, 2020. Esper met with Air Education and Training Command leaders to see firsthand how basic military training is fighting through COVID-19 with health protection measures in place and adapting operations to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. The visit also allowed him to witness how a citizen becomes an airman during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Johnny Saldivar, Air Force
VIRIN: 200616-F-YQ806-0122C

BEAR base, also called tent city, was another stop on the visit. This area was established by the 49th Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, to support potential BMT contingency operations for the Gateway Wing should swing space be required in the COVID-19 environment.

How the service recruits more than 31,000 new accessions every year into the total force was also highlighted for the Defense Department's senior leader, including the use of agile shipping methods to adjust the numbers of airmen reporting to basic military training each week.

"What the U.S. Air Force Recruiting Service has done in response to COVID-19 by being ready to pivot, prioritize, and match applicants to an optimal job and enter-active-duty date on a weekly, and sometimes hourly, basis has been incredible," Esper said.

Defense secretary administers enlistment oath to new Air Force airmen.
Oath of Enlistment
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper administers the oath of enlistment to Air Force airmen entering basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, June 16, 2020. Esper met with Air Education and Training Command leaders to see firsthand how basic military training is fighting through COVID-19 with health protection measures in place and adapting operations to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. The visit also allowed him to witness how a citizen becomes an airman during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Johnny Saldivar, Air Force
VIRIN: 200616-F-YQ806-0364C

The secretary also learned about the recent integration of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard into total force recruiting and the recent rollout of the new "Aim High" phone application by Air Force Recruiting Service, which is aimed at providing better communication to inform and inspire new recruits with embedded tools to guide them into the right Total Force career path as they transition from citizens to service members.

"It's evident BMT's success in the COVID-19 environment can be largely credited to the [military training instructor] corps creating a culture of safety," said Esper. "The work they do year-round laid the foundation for them to adapt swiftly with health recommendations and develop a mentality of early symptom reporting."

(Air Force 1st Lt. Kayshel Trudell is assigned to the 37th Training Wing.)