WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
As states across the U.S. begin to slowly reopen their economies, Air Force Materiel Command leaders are similarly readying to return to full mission capacity following major disruptions caused by COVID-19.
The plan is for AFMC’s six centers and eight installations to reconstitute and begin to reopen installation services and to return many employees to their workplaces over the next 60 to 120 days. Timing will be determined by center and installation commanders, informed by their public health teams, local conditions, governors’ executive orders, and declining trends of new coronavirus infections.
We’ve been carefully planning how we can best return the workforce to full capacity. The time is right to start this process. -- Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr.
Moreover AFMC, in consultation with supervisors and medical professionals, will bring back a number of workers with health conditions that placed them at higher risk who have remained at home on weather and safety leave, and whose mission cannot be accomplished via telework.
“We’ve been carefully planning how we can best return the workforce to full capacity. The time is right to start this process,” said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., AFMC Commander. “Our team of uniformed and civilian Airmen has done an amazing job responding creatively to every challenge this coronavirus has thrown at us.”
Bunch acknowledged the three air logistics centers are just one area where workers with special skills are needed at the job on depot production lines to support readiness by delivering aircraft and systems back to warfighters. In the past several weeks, some at risk workers were briefly recalled to perform specific tasks, and then returned home again to weather and safety leave. The reduced available manning meant aircraft inductions for programmed depot maintenance had to be slowed in some cases.
“While we can’t completely eliminate the risk until a vaccine for the virus is available, we’ve taken every precaution to return the workforce, minimize their risk of exposure and safely reconstitute,” Bunch said. “This isn’t like a flip of a switch. We’re going to slowly turn the dial up and bring teammates back, along with a number of new guidelines to help keep them safe.”
Bunch said the plan is to return supervisors first, review the new protocols and, “invite them to help us close any gaps and seams we may not have thought through.”
Strict protective protocols and new rules requiring conspicuous cleaning and sanitization, physical distancing and the wearing of face coverings will continue. Some depot workers will return to a different shift and have staggered breaks. Each employee will be responsible to perform daily personal health monitoring such as temperature checks.
Similar plans are being finalized for phased implementation at each AFMC operating location.
“Return to full capacity doesn’t mean we will be at the 100 percent pre-COVID level,” Bunch added. “Reducing the risk requires us to make accommodations, such as physical distancing and additional staggered shifts which prevent concurrent work and may decrease our production efficiency.”
As public health emergencies were declared across the country, a significant portion of the AFMC’s 87,000 strong workforce was sent home. The command adapted to continue critical research and development, acquisition, test, sustainment, logistics, and installation and mission support. Many employees were able to utilize telework and virtual tools to enable them to continue performing their mission, something AFMC strategic planners said will continue.
“The reality is most of our team have continued to work, just differently,” said Maj. Gen. Carl Schaefer, AFMC deputy commander, who Bunch charged with leading the command’s response to COVID-19.
“Telework has proven to be very successful. Without a doubt looking forward we will see a mix of telework continuing. However, telework simply isn’t an option for many in the AFMC workforce, such as those working in depots, some in the supply chain enterprise, doing research in the laboratory, testing, as well as those who must have access to classified materials and systems,” Schaefer said.
Installation commanders are working through details on safely reopening base support activities such as Child Development Centers, initially at reduced capacity. Childcare is an important mission enabler, necessitating efforts to help locate suitable off-installation arrangements for Airmen and civilian employees with young families. The timing of facility openings ranging from dining facilities to fitness centers will vary by installation and local conditions.
Infectious disease and public health experts have cautioned pockets of resurgence are possible as states and communities reopen. Installation public health teams are postured to quickly react with contact tracing of any base workers who become ill with the virus.
“Flexibility will be key. Setbacks requiring us to adjust the plan are possible. I can assure you we are using every tool we have to lower the risk to our people and enable us to perform our mission,” Bunch said.