‘Allies and partners depend on us’: US air bases stand ready despite coronavirus lockdown
PUBLISHED: 15:41 15 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:54 15 April 2020
Their homeland is the worst hit by coronavirus with more than half-a-million cases and 22,000 deaths.
But American servicemen and women stationed at air bases in Suffolk are standing ready should they be needed.
And life behind the fences of the bases at RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall has been affected as much as that on the outside.
At RAF Mildenhall, coronavirus cases have been confirmed after an airman and their dependent stationed there tested positive.
Public health officials were informed and leadership took action to limit the spread of the virus.
“This pandemic, in general, has not only had an impact at this base but across the entire globe, including where we fit in the architecture of the military,” said Col. Troy Pananon, 100th Air Refueling Wing commander.
“For day-to-day operations, we still execute what we need to based on mission requirements, since we have allies and partners who depend on us.
“But we’re maximizing telework, social distancing and creating teams that can still perform the mission while implementing mitigation measures to ensure the health and safety of our trained airmen and civilian personnel.”
While operations continue, extra precautions have been put in place to further prevent the spread of the virus with schools, playgrounds and parks closed.
And despite their outspoken commander-in-chief making headlines, base staff have been listening to British instructions when it comes to lockdown.
Col. Pananon said: “As soon as the prime minister announced his imposed restrictions, we took those and drafted a policy letter that is in line with exactly what the UK government implemented, and we will enforce these measures with our own personnel.
“We value the relationship we have with the local community and national government, so we are working together with the other Air Force wings here so we can give assurances to the local community that we are responding to this pandemic, but we are also ready and able to conduct our mission that we are here for.”
Some of the staff who would usually be stationed at the base are now working from home.
Technical Sgt. Emerson Nuñez, 100th Air Refueling Wing public affairs noncommissioned officer in-charge of community and media relations has been quarantining from his home with his family for two weeks.
“The challenge has been to maintain a structured schedule during this experience,” Technical Sgt. Nuñez said.
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“We do our best to make time for all the necessities of normal life, work, family and play.”
The 48th Fighter Wing, at Lakenheath, said it “continues to provide worldwide combat airpower despite the Covid-19 pandemic”.
On base, staff have been renovating old dormitories for personnel who need to self-isolate to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Staff Sgt. Reginald Madison said: “Doing these renovations is important. Now we can supply them with a space for those who need to quarantine.
“It took all of the 48th CES about a week to get this done. We had all hands on deck.”
The work included cleaning, upgrading electrical circuits and structural repairs to create a suitable living space.
“It goes to show you how much manpower we actually have because we have to get the job done,” Staff Sgt Madison added.
“Especially with a situation like this, it’s in the line of saving lives. When everyone comes together it makes it that much simpler.”
Despite US president Donald Trump saying he would not be following health advice and wearing a face mask, the Department of Defense has told all airmen on the base to do so and maintain a two metre distance from each other while working.
The arts and crafts centre has started making protective masks to distribute to squadrons.
“We’ve taken our paint and ceramics room and turned it into our sewing room,” said Master Sgt. Tennille Benton, 48th Community Service Flight Superintendent.
“We’ll use that space to produce enough masks to supply to our military members in the 48th Fighter Wing. We’re in the middle of a pandemic but we’re all going through the same thing.
“It’s what the U.S. Air Force is all about, we put the mission first but our people are always supported.”
The centre has enlisted the help of volunteers pick up kits and make masks from home with up to 685 being supplied to staff.
“This is kind of unknown territory,” said Louise Mannox, arts and crafts program director.
“The way people have stepped up has been amazing.”
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