Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper visited U.S. Air Force basic military training (BMT) cadre and recruits, accompanied on the visit by the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Ramón Colón-López, to observe how the 37th Training Wing, with the support of a tri-wing partnership with the 502nd Air Base Wing and 59th Medical Wing, has protected airmen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The traveling party adhered to all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Defense Department social-distancing guidelines to ensure the protection of their health and those around them.
The first stop was at BMT’s Pfingston Reception Center for an overview of Gateway Wing operations and an in-depth look at how BMT has adjusted operations in the wake of COVID-19 in order to continue developing the airmen needed to ensure readiness, including restriction of movement implementation, person-under-investigation and isolation operations.
More than 34,500 airmen will graduate from BMT in fiscal year 2020 and the wing has graduated more than 8,500 airmen since March 16, when the service first implemented a 14-day restriction of movement protocol for new accessions arriving at training. Since May 19, BMT has 100% testing of new recruits and has realigned the training campus to prevent the interaction of airmen in different weeks of training.
“Two of our top priorities during COVID-19 have been the safety of our people and ensuring the mission of national security continues,” Esper said. “The rapid implementation of safety protocols here has been extremely successful on both of these fronts thanks to the partnership of health experts and the BMT team.”
Military training instructors and cadre had the opportunity to discuss BMT’s tempo, successes and ways forward with Esper before taking him on a walkthrough of new trainee in-processing, daily operations at an airman training complex, as well as the Reid Clinic, where the 59th MDW conducts BMT medical support operations.
Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources, or BEAR was another stop on the visit. This area was established by the 49th Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, to support potential BMT contingency operations for the Gateway Wing should swing space be required in the COVID-19 environment.
How the service recruits more than 31,000 new accessions every year into the total force was also highlighted for the DoD’s senior leadership, including the use of agile shipping methods to adjust the numbers of airmen reporting to BMT each week.
“What the U.S. Air Force Recruiting Service has done in response to COVID-19 by being ready to pivot, prioritize, and match applicants to an optimal job and enter active duty on a weekly and sometimes hourly basis, has been incredible,” Esper said.
Esper also learned about the recent integration of the U.S. Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard into Total Force recruiting and the recent roll-out of the new Aim High phone application by AFRS, which is aimed at helping better communicate, inform and inspire new recruits, with embedded tools to guide them into the right Total Force career path, as their transition from citizens to American service members.
“It’s evident BMT’s success in the COVID-19 environment can be largely credited to the MTI corps creating a culture of safety,” Esper said. “The work they do year-round laid the foundation for them to adapt swiftly with health recommendations and develop a mentality of early-symptom reporting.”