Nuke sniffer 3-16-20

Flight training and other military missions continue at Offutt Air Force Base, but military travel and large gatherings on base are being curtailed. In this photo, one of the 55th Wing’s WC-135 radiation detection aircraft is shown taking off Monday from Offutt.

Offutt Air Force Base will close its cavernous gym, the Field House, and bar government travel for military and civilian personnel as part of the effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The restrictions were announced late Sunday in a YouTube video featuring 55th Wing Commander Col. Gavin Marks and the base’s senior enlisted member, Chief Master Sgt. Brian C. Thomas.

The base also is limiting or canceling mass gatherings, according to the video.

Marks said several Offutt personnel who have showed symptoms consistent with the coronavirus have been tested, but to date there have been no confirmed cases.

The gym will be closed beginning Wednesday and will remain so until further notice. Air Force fitness tests also have been suspended.

“We understand many of you have concerns and many are worried,” Thomas said in the video. “It’s completely normal and reasonable to feel some anxiety as we make our way through this.”

Thomas said the 55th Wing had established a public health working group last week, made up of experts from the Wing’s medical group, emergency management, finance and contracting, as well as all of the major units at Offutt.

Marks said the group will keep him informed about changes in the status of COVID-19 at Offutt, and in the surrounding community while working with federal, state and local health officials.

“Please know that everything we are doing is to prevent the spread of the virus,” Marks said.

The cancellation of official travel and leave complies with a Defense Department directive issued Friday. That ends all domestic travel for either temporary duty or permanent relocation to another base through May 11, and leaves many service members and their families uncertain about upcoming moves.

Late spring and summer, after school lets out, are the peak seasons for military moves. A 55th Wing spokesman said it wasn’t clear yet how many are affected.

Military members will only be allowed to take local leave. The policy also brought some service members home early from spring break trips with their families.

“It was perfect timing. We started driving from Nebraska to Florida and had to turn around,” wrote one military spouse on a 55th Wing Facebook page.

“We understand these new travel policies and their implementation may create financial hardships for some,” Marks said in the video. “We are looking at how best to work through these issues.”

Late last week, the 55th Force Support Squadron announced the cancellation of on-base recreational events for the rest of the month.

But most recreational facilities — including the Willow Lakes Golf Course, outdoor recreation building, auto hobby shop, Aero Club and arts and crafts shop — will remain open, “with social distancing practices in place,” according to the squadron’s Facebook page.

The Warhawk Community Center has been closed, but on-base day care and youth programs will continue. The bowling alley has been closed, but its restaurant will remain open for takeout food only.

Enhanced cleaning protocols are being followed at all facilities, the Facebook page said.

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Military and civilian employees so far are not working from home. But Delanie Stafford, a 55th Wing spokesman, said training is taking place this week that will allow some to do so.

Stafford said Offutt workers and their families will be invited to join in a “virtual town hall” later this week. Details are still being worked out, but he said it will likely take place Wednesday evening through the 55th Wing Commander Facebook page.

Marks and Thomas urged residents to follow the Wing’s Facebook pages and its website, offutt.af.mil/units/55thwing.

“We understand these decisions we have to make impact all members here at Team Offutt, and we are certainly sympathetic,” Thomas said. “But these are unprecedented times. We are all in this together.”


Offutt Air Force Base through the years

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