Mountain Home Air Force Base deals with COVID-19 while balancing mission readiness

Posted at 12:02 PM, Apr 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-26 20:19:31-04

MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho — Mountain Home Air Force base has put in measures to protect their airmen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and life on base has been a little different.

Many of these measures look similar to what the civilian population is doing. Still, the Air Force is also balancing safety with staying mission-ready, and that creates some unique challenges for the military.

The Air Force has converted to a work-at-home environment as much as possible, airmen also wear masks and practice social distancing protocols, but at the same time, they are still flying jets.

"There are maintenance tasks that have to be done that require you to get within the bubble," said CPT. Kelly Walker of the 391st Fighter Squadron. "We are flying jets, we are breaking jets, we are fixing jets, we are maintaining our aircrew readiness in case we have to go do the job."

Flight crews have transitioned into a week on week-off format, CPT. Walker commutes from her home in Boise. She has gotten used to 15 hour days during her week on the flight line, and during that time, one of her biggest challenges has been childcare.

"My spouse is a nurse out in Boise, so given the importance of her work right now and given the fact that we are still here flying our mission on base, we've split our shifts," said Walker. "So that when I'm at home, I'm taking care of the kids all by myself, which is a new challenge for me."

Many airmen also live on base and military bases like Mountain Home are like little cities, the commissary provides groceries, the PX resembles a Walmart and dining facilities are necessary for single airmen to get their meals.

One big difference in military life is that gyms are essential. Airmen have to maintain physical fitness standards, so the fitness center remains open 24-hours a day. The Air Force has put in protective measures for both the gym and the dining facility to make them safer during the pandemic.

Some of those include spacing out the gym equipment, ending group classes except in an online format and installing extra sanitizing stations.

At the dining facility, meals have been converted to a takeout format, and Mountain Home has implemented reusable plastic to-go containers. They are the first base in the Air Force to do so in an effort to cut down on waste.

"We've had to be very creative in our ways to support the population on our installation through minimum manning challenges," said LT. COL Allyson Strickland the commander of the 366th Force Support Squadron. "We still want to give them the same quality of life that they've had before even though they feel like they are confined to their homes."

Airmen are also free to leave the base if they want, but many choose not to because the base provides everything they need for daily life.

"I'm not confined here, nobody in my family is," said Major Keyleigh Stillwell of the 366th Force Support Squadron. "The base has everything that we need. The commissary provides everything that we need, so we don't really go off base to go to Albertsons or Walmart or anything like that."

The U.S. Department of Defense has implemented travel restrictions that prevent military personnel from changing duty stations, traveling for training and deploying.

The airmen at Mountain Home Air Force base can only take leave in local areas, and this restriction lasts until June 30.

Disclaimer: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we provided the Air Force with questions, and the airmen shot the video for this story while also conducting the interviews.