EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE --
Most of you have been on a commercial airline enjoying a smooth, calm flight when one of the pilots makes an announcement. Maybe you are relishing the amazing view from 39,000 feet out your window seat or you are engrossed in a great book. Maybe you are watching a movie or a ball game on your tablet or – like me very often – taking a nap.
“Good Morning folks, this is your Captain. We’re getting reports up here in the cockpit of a very wide area of turbulence between where we are now and our destination. I’m doing what I can to avoid the worst of it, but out of an abundance of caution I’m turning on the Fasten Seat Belt sign for your safety. Please return to your seat and snugly fasten your seatbelt.”
This e-mail is that public address announcement. Our “aircraft” are Edwards AFB and Air Force Plant 42. I’m your “Captain” and our destination is the stable post-pandemic “new-normal”. Our estimated time of arrival at that post-pandemic destination is deep into calendar year 2021 – I’m estimating mid- to late-summer. The “turbulence” is not the virus. In this analogy, the turbulence that Team T-Cot-A-TU will be unable to avoid in the very near future is the resurgence, in every single community of our Nation, of the uncontained spread of the virus. If you are interested in the current COVID outlook as I see it from my viewpoint, I encourage you to review the “COVID-19: USA” chart posted at www.edwards.af.mil/coronavirus. While there, I encourage you to review the most-recent Edwards AFB & AF Plant 42 Counter-COVID Comprehensive Directive. Your “seatbelt” is your respect of the threat as exemplified by your adherence to and application of Counter-COVID principles.
The Installation Senior Leadership, with the continued advice and counsel of our amazing Public Health professionals, will continue to do everything we can to keep Edwards AFB and AF Plant 42 from experiencing the worst of the approaching COVID-related turbulence to our mission and very real threat to the health of our Big-A Airmen and their families. I do not expect any abrupt changes in our actions. Stay on the masks-up, wash your hands, physical separation, and robust social connectedness flight path we are currently traversing. You – each and every one of you – have done exceptionally well in learning about the threat and respecting the threat. We have had AFMC-leading low per capita rates of COVID infections, and while this is a reason to be proud, our future infection rates are not yet determined. Our Counter-COVID actions at the individual level combined with our agility and innovation culture are the principle reasons we are beating this threat… but there are many months left ahead of us before I will announce we’ve arrive at the post-pandemic “new normal” destination. That announcement will be when I declare Health Protection Condition – ZERO.
I am under no illusions that we will be able to coast through the impending storm of COVID infections without being impacted. Please continue to use exceptional risk-management principles in all you do on and off duty. As there have been since the first declared COVID death in the United States on 29 Feb 2020, there will continue to be reasons that individuals, crews, teams, and maybe even squadrons accept increased risk due to COVID. All I expect of you when you are the decision maker in these scenarios is that you take into account all the risks you are balancing and find an overall lowest risk solution as you have done on countless occasions the last 264 days.
You will be faced with significant “to accept or not to accept COVID risk” decisions the next 11 days as we traverse the Thanksgiving Holiday. Be deliberate and focus on the long view as you decide what to do and what to forego. As a personal example of this risk balancing and long view, my family and I will not be spending any portion of the Thanksgiving Holiday with any of our extended family this year for the first time in over two decades, nor are we sharing the holiday with local friends. We have every expectation that our extended family and dear friends will be with us to enjoy an amazing Thanksgiving Holiday in 2021 and the COIVD risk we’d present to the older members of our family due to our travel alone is just too high. I am, however, going to devote some of my Thanksgiving Day to serving Airmen at the Dining Facility. Sharing a portion of my Holiday with the members of the T-Cot-A-TU Family that reside in the dorms at Edwards AFB may have a very small increase in COVID risk, but if it decreases the risks due to the holiday blues in even one Airmen, that risk balance is worth it. I’m confident many of you are planning similar activities and risk mitigations that double-down on robust social connectedness… as we have all done so very well the last 264 days.
MATTHEW W. HIGER
Brigadier General, USAF
Commander, 412th Test Wing (AFMC)