New precautions, supplies allow VaANG Airmen to return for ‘partial in-person’ drill

Airmen assigned to the 192nd Maintenance Group, 192nd Wing have their temperature taken at a controlled entry point on July 10, 2020, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. Col. Mark Piper, 192nd Wing commander, authorized a the unit’s first partial in person drill with the implementing of extended COVID-19 precautionary measures. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lucretia Cunningham)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — For nearly four months, Airmen from the Virginia Air National Guard have been performing routine monthly drills from the comfort of their own homes and behind a computer screen. However, in an initiative to get back to the mission, the 192nd Medical Group has guided COVID-19 prescreening throughout the unit, enabling some Guardsmen to show up in person for the July session at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

Col. Mark Piper, 192nd Wing commander, authorized a partial in-person drill after directing screenings at controlled entry points and a limitation on which personnel were expected to attend: Airmen who live within a daily commuting distance to the base and those considered critical to the mission.

“We have learned from experts that methods like wearing masks, social distancing, and proper hand hygiene are highly effective in decreasing the spread of coronavirus,” Piper said. “We have a continual responsibility to execute the mission, even in the most challenging environments. However, we can never forget Airmen are the foundation of everything we do. For this drill, we worked to maximize airman safety by accomplishing virtual pre-screening prior to travel and in-person evaluations upon arrival. Methods such as these help maximize Airman safety while maintaining our ability to respond at a moment’s notice when called upon.”

In late March, JBLE Installation Commander Col. Clint Ross declared a public health emergency and increased the health protection condition level to ‘Charlie,’ which limited access for official business only. The 192nd Maintenance Group, the largest group in the wing, went to work producing more than 15 F-22 sorties over the weekend. Members also accomplished a midpoint Unit Effectiveness Inspection and safety inspection.

The process to welcome Guardsmen back began in the weeks leading up to drill. Airmen who were expected to show up in person received a questionnaire asking about any symptoms or possible contact with the virus. All questionnaires were signed and sent back to the 192nd MDG for record keeping. However, if an Airman answered ‘yes’ or had any concerns, a medical provider from the unit contacted the Airman directly to discuss and make a recommendation to either proceed to drill or execute drill virtually.

Senior Master Sgt. Latoya White, 192nd MDG health services management supervisor, facilitated the purchase of thermometers, masks, gloves, and alcohol wipes to put together and issue close to 20 COVID prescreening kits to each of the wing’s squadrons. Medical personnel distributed the large brown bags and provided training for group superintendents the Friday ahead of drill.

Operating the different models of infrared thermometers was a topic of discussion, but also to know what reading would require an alert to the medical staff. In true “see one, do one, train one” fashion, group chiefs appointed screeners and trained them to perform prescreening and temperature checks at work centers throughout the weekend.

Master Sgt. Damon Obasi, 192nd MDG public health noncommissioned officer in charge, was also part of the medical team and said the most significant message presented to group chiefs during the training session was to ensure a climate where open communication between troops and their supervisors can occur.

“It’s to remind everybody that while we have a mission to complete, their safety and health is the most important thing,” Obasi said. “We are [enthusiastic] and we want to just get here and do what we do. However, in this particular case, if you do not feel well, I think the best thing the chiefs can tell people is to not come — just call.”