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412th Force Support Squadron works to make ‘support’ the first word in its identity

  • Published
  • By Gary Hatch
  • 412th Test Wing

At a time when, by necessity, the majority of Team Edwards either teleworks or takes administrative leave in response to COVID-19, there are certain duties that, by necessity, must be accomplished on base every day.

The 412th Force Support Squadron executes a swath of those daily duties at Edwards – always with a focus on preventing the spread of the virus.

“Right now our people are doing a great job of putting into practice the Air Force core value of service before self,” said Paul Keenan, director of the 412th FSS. “These dedicated leaders and staff members are putting themselves at risk every day to provide outstanding service to our customers,” he said.

The squadron’s mission includes essential station messing for Airmen and first responders, keeping the fitness center open to ensure military readiness, watching and caring for the children of others on base who are required to be at work, lodging, official mail, Club Muroc and the contract food service workers at the Cactus Café.

Without the direct support of these functions some of the base’s core capabilities would be crippled.

Rick Hoffa, sustainment services flight chief with the squadron, echoed Keenan’s assessment and added that his team members are closely following the protocols put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“At the dining facility we are constantly wiping down all common areas in between customers. Our workers maintain social distancing where possible, and when we can’t we are using cloth face coverings as we’ve been directed,” Hoffa said. “Civil engineering has put handwashing stations in front of the dining facility and the fitness center, and we’re requiring all our patrons to wash before they enter.

The dining facility’s 35-member staff provides some 340 hot meals a day. All meals are for take-out only to further protect everyone from the virus.

“We’re being careful, we’re cleaning often and we’re making extra efforts to avoid cross contamination wherever we can,” Hoffa said.

That includes taking extra steps at all the FSS facilities that are open for business.

The fitness center, which is currently limited to military members to help ensure their readiness, has instituted social distancing. This means, for instance, that only every other piece of cardio equipment is used. This allows staff members and patrons to focus more on their own cleaning efforts, which are also receiving renewed emphasis and attention, Hoffa said.

The fitness center’s staff of 10 work a modified rotating shift serving more than 100 active-duty members a day with a greatly increased emphasis on cleaning the equipment and common-use areas. During normal periods the fitness center is likely to have 500 patrons a day.

“The commander has said he considers the fitness center to be as essential as a bed to sleep in or food to eat,” in support of military readiness, Hoffa said.

The base lodging staff is working a silver and blue team schedule, where the staff is divided into teams that work alternating schedules. Residency is limited but it is stable and more members have been dedicated to cleaning common-use areas to minimize cross contamination.

The base official mail facility is open and requires patrons to sanitize their hands when entering, Hoffa said.

Barriers and sneeze guards are also being used whenever it’s practicable, he said.

The child development center (CDC) is hosting about 20 children and about 12 more are being cared for at the school-age annex. During normal operations the CDC has about 280 children with a staff of 58 people. The school-age annex usually has about 150 children with 19 staff members.

Both those facilities are perpetually near COVID-ready by virtue of the standard sanitation and personal hygiene requirements they have put in place that are focused on keeping the children as well as the staff members safe and healthy, said Anthony Coward, child and youth services flight chief. However, the facilities have added sanitation stations inside as well as civil engineering-placed handwashing stations outside. Additionally, the staff members are taking extra precautions and making sure the children are spread out to keep a safe distance, he said.

“Things are going really well,” Coward said. “My staff is doing a great job. They’re all human and they have concerns with all that’s going on right now, but these are dedicated frontline people who are still providing quality care for the children of mission-essential people. We want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts. Every day they are making sure the kids are safe, still learning, still thriving.”

Because of the reduced number of children, both the CDC and the school-age annex are using silver and blue teams with alternating work schedules.

Additionally at the CDC, the director there is employing virtual opportunities for the children who are not coming to the facility, which number more than 200, Coward said.

Hoffa also praised his people.

“These services have been identified by base leadership as essential so we are doing our best to provide them the safest way possible,” Hoffa said.

“We want to keep everybody safe, both our staff and our customers. That’s what it’s all about, and I can’t say enough about my people. They are the ones who deserve the accolades. Nobody’s called in sick. They’re here, working hard every day. They’re amazing,” Hoffa said.