OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the local area in March, the 55th Operations Support Squadron faced a challenge unlike any they had faced before to keep airfield operations ongoing.
By implementing numerous precautionary measures, this team of more than 200 people, whose vast mission ensures the 55th Wing and its partner units are able to successfully accomplish the flying mission here, have been able to do just that.
“Our unit has been able to strike a delicate balance,” said Lt. Col. Brent Lipovsky, 55th OSS commander. “Our number one priority is Airman safety, but the mission must also continue. To limit the possibility of any of our Airmen contracting COVID-19, we lowered manning and added protective measures such wearing face coverings, social distancing, clean practices and sanitization of shared resources, and we are following all CDC, DoD Air Force and 55th Wing guidelines to limit the spread.”
With these measures in place, the Airmen from these different units adapted to the circumstances to still fulfill mission requirements.
“Our 24/7 desk is working one qualified person per shift versus two during higher periods of flying,” said Tech. Sgt. Andrea Hetlage,” 55th OSS airfield management operations. “This has forced some adjustment to better continuity of shift events and procedures, communication between shifts and a greater responsibility to maintain situational awareness of airfield safety.”
Within these new parameters, each unit faced unique set of circumstances.
“We reduced our on-shift manning by about 50% each day.” said Senior Airman Andrew Reardon, 55th OSS control tower. “We have also tailored our schedule to reduce the amount of contact with multiple people in the same flight, by working with the same people for multiple days in a row.”
“It’s normal for a forecaster to work solo during swings and mids, so it’s not all that different being solo on days,” said Senior Amn Laiza Javier, 55th OSS, weather flight. “We’ve increased our way of communication as a flight instead of a normal group text, so we’re still able to keep in touch and share inputs through our chats.”
In addition, the majority of all ongoing training requirements within the unit are being accomplished virtually, while the commander believes the OSS can maintain its current day-to-day operations within these confines well into the future as needed.
“We are following Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Combat Command and 55th Wing guidance to maximize telework where we can and have implemented it throughout the squadron except for those areas required to be on base to conduct their missions,” Lipovsky said.
COVID-19 is not the first challenge the 55th OSS has had to deal with. The flood of March 2019 also affected their ability to maintain airfield operations. The flood was more about facilities and equipment, which was quickly overcome due to the amazing innovation and dedication of the Airmen.
“This pandemic is different as it directly attacks the heart of our Air Force, our Airmen,” Lipovsky said. “The best thing we can do is prioritize protecting our Airmen and their families until this passes. The Airmen are still amazing at keeping the mission going.”
The 55th OSS maintains a sense of pride in the work they do every day. The commander attributes this to the well adaptive Airmen who are accustomed to working in challenging and dynamic environments.
“Without the support of OSS Airmen, the wing and many of our partner unit’s missions stop,” Lipovsky said. “We continue to maintain and operate the airfield, prepare, train and certify aircrew, execute the daily and long-range flying schedule; while providing weather support to the base, aviation resource management, communications security and all other aspects of operations support throughout the current crisis.”
And that pride is evident across the unit.
“Being able to support the mission in a time like this makes it even more rewarding when we are accomplishing day-to-day tasks,” Reardon said.
“It’s very rewarding that we play a role in the missions that still go on,” Javier said.