In the midst of the global pandemic, about 50 members of the Nebraska Air National Guard deployed last week for military operations in the Middle East. And their departure, complete with social distancing and medical screening, showed what military operations may start to look like in the age of coronavirus.

The deployment by the 155th Air Refueling Wing is part of a recurring rotation to support military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been scheduled for 16 months, Nebraska National Guard officials said in a press release.

The Wing provides planes, aircrews, maintenance and other support personnel for aerial refueling of combat aircraft, Wing Commander Col. Robert Hargens said in the statement.

“It is the same deployment that we’ve been supporting for a number of years,” Hargens said in a statement. “It’s really a critical resource in that theatre of operations.”

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It’s the first deployment to take place in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. The deploying airmen took special medical precautions before boarding their KC-135R tankers at the Lincoln Airport’s National Guard terminal last week for the trip overseas.

The 155th Medical Group set up several stations for airmen to go through a required medical screening, according to the release. All airmen were checked by medical personnel for fevers, coughs and other symptoms. If anyone had failed any of the tests, they wouldn’t have been allowed to board the plane.

Other changes for the airmen included “touch-free” out-processing and a departure line set up to limit face-to-face contact as they finished off predeployment administrative work, said Lt. Col. Karl Durek, chief of Wing plans.

The Guard didn’t disclose where the Air Guard members will be serving. Past deployment locations have included Qatar and Afghanistan. The length of the deployment also wasn’t disclosed.

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