Maintainers tell all: the struggle of COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Andrew Kobialka
  • 366th Fighter Wing / Public Affairs

“I can’t wait to get back to my regular life,” Kristin Lyons said muffled through a cloth mask.

Knees bent, she walks out from under an F-15E Strike Eagle, stands up tall and wipes the sweat from her forehead. Lyons has nearly finished a 12-hour shift working as a crew chief for the 391st Fighter Squadron.

She distances herself from the Airmen near her and lowers her mask. She breathes in the fresh air and looks out toward the mountains painting the landscape. They are just barely holding on to their last bit of snow cap.

“In times like these, it’s all about the little moments,” Lyons said.

She put her mask back on, turned around and went back to work.

COVID-19 has forced Airmen to adapt and it wouldn’t be genuine to say it comes without struggle. But the Air Force is a family and, together, Airmen at the 391st FS are finding ways to enhance readiness, despite the challenges.

“I’m tired and it’s hard, but our leadership really takes care of us,” Lyons said. “They are making sure we are okay, as safe as possible while working and take all the precautions seriously.”

The precautions for the 391st and 389th FS’s include dividing the Airmen into two teams who alternate a week-on, week-off work schedule with 12-hour shifts.

This schedule was a strategic decision made to protect Airmen and enhance readiness.

“Those 12-hour shifts can be exhausting,” Lyons explained. “But having a week off helps our morale and keeps us safe.”

It ensures that if an Airmen does get sick, that there is another team safe from contamination and ready to complete the mission while the others can be properly treated.

At the same time, it’s similar to a deployment schedule, which is great training.

“On the bright side, long hours let us gain a lot of valuable experience,” Lyons said. “We have the time to really focus on the maintenance of our jets and because of that, we are ready to deploy at a moment's notice.”

A deployment-oriented focus unites Airmen under a common goal and gives a drive and purpose during the stresses of COVID-19.

“We have all become a tighter family,” Lyons said. “Right now is really stressful but we know that we aren’t alone. We can’t physically be near each other, but we have each others’ backs.”

That familial bond means looking out for each others’ physical and mental health. Airmen are constantly sanitizing surfaces, wearing masks, social distancing, and are finding support in one another.

“The men and women of the 391 Fighter Squadron are crushing it,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christy Funk, 391st FS first sergeant. “They come to work ready to do whatever needs to be done to complete the mission. They continue to take care of one another through training, maintenance, flying as a split shift operation and, especially, supporting each other mentally and physically through this difficult time.”

The mission is important but without healthy people it wouldn't be as effective, and the 391st FS is well on its way to finding that balance.

“I’m looking forward to doing normal stuff again,” Lyons said. “To not be separated anymore, to go out to eat, go on vacation, work normal hours. Yeah, I can’t wait for that. There’s a lot of uncertainty in people’s lives right now. People are losing jobs and we don’t know what the future holds. But if one thing is certain, it’s that Airmen are strong and we are working hard to keep everyone safe.”