ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --
It has been more than two months since the second of the three-phase Return to Full Capacity took effect at Arnold Air Force Base, a point at which much of the workforce returned to the “new normal” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this time, Arnold Engineering Development Complex Commander Col. Jeffrey Geraghty has kept a close watch to ensure members of Team AEDC are taking the appropriate actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He is pleased with what he has seen.
“Overall, I’m impressed with the patriotism of this workforce,” Geraghty said. “They are dedicated to getting the mission done, even if they have to undergo some personal discomfort by wearing a mask or refraining from shaking hands. Almost everybody has demonstrated the core value of ‘service before self’ by making these small sacrifices in order to protect each other and the most vulnerable members of our society.”
Geraghty and AEDC Superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Robert Heckman continue to conduct weekly walkabouts of Arnold Air Force Base, the headquarters of AEDC. Geraghty said what they have observed is the vast majority of team members at Arnold “demonstrating a patriotic duty to each other” by adhering to the previously-implemented COVID-19 mitigation measures.
“Occasionally, we spot a handful of individuals who aren’t abiding by the distancing or mask protocols, and they correct the infractions immediately,” Geraghty said. “I haven’t found a soul on base who refuses to make these small personal sacrifices for some ideological reason. I think Team AEDC recognizes their part in helping to thwart an invading enemy that has killed more Americans than the Korean War, Vietnam War and the multiple wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Every American is in this fight now.
“Thankfully, our country isn’t asking us to charge an enemy position with bayonets fixed. We simply have to wear a mask and wash our hands, and everyone on base has proven strong enough and patriotic enough to do this duty.”
To help safeguard the health of the Arnold workforce, several operational plans and postures have been effected during the pandemic. The implementation of Return to Full Capacity, or RtFC, Phase 2 in mid-June came two weeks after the initiation of RtFC Phase 1 on June 1. Prior to the effectuation of RtFC Phase 1, an Operationally Urgent posture was implemented at Arnold on April 6. During this latter posture, the personnel on base was significantly reduced and only test and support functions critical to national security were maintained.
An increased number of staff returned to the base for work with the implementation of each new phase. Geraghty previously stated RtFC Phase 2 would only have been implemented if the workforce present at Arnold during Phase 1 could demonstrate they could mitigate the infection risk through the correct behaviors such as social distancing and mask wear.
Arnold leadership has remained transparent throughout the pandemic, informing the workforce when employees have tested positive for the virus.
Geraghty said leadership expected to see an increase in the number of positive cases among Arnold personnel as the pandemic continues its surge.
“Indeed, the case count on base has risen as the virus continues to infect our nearby counties,” he said. “Like Chief and I have said before, people are going to get sick in our communities, and they won’t find out they’re sick until they’ve had ample opportunity to infect others.”
Geraghty expressed confidence that the workforce will continue to follow the necessary mitigation measures.
“It’s a pretty simple set of protocols that will contain this virus: wash your hands often for the full duration of the Air Force song, wear a mask anytime you’re within 6 feet of another person, don’t shake hands,” Geraghty said. “These protocols have ensured that we don’t transmit the disease from person-to-person on base, and they’re simple. They may not be easy, but they are simple.”
The RtFC framework allows for regression to prior pandemic-related operating postures if necessary for employee safety. Geraghty said should the staff now present at Arnold display an inability to follow the proper mitigation procedures, AEDC leadership will move to return to a previous posture.
“When our people give up the fight we will have to shut down operations again,” Geraghty said. “When we no longer have the strength to abide by these simple protocols – when we start transmitting the disease from person-to-person on base – we will have to shut down, head home and regroup.
“However, I don’t see this workforce giving up. I’ve seen them look out for each other when times are tough. We will continue to be transparent about the risks of coming to work on base. Chief Heckman and I have reiterated that AEDC will be in a medium risk posture for many months to come due to the level of infection in our communities. Every member of Team AEDC can visit the Arnold Coronavirus webpage and take a look at the exact same data the leadership team is using to make risk decisions.”
Throughout the pandemic, Geraghty has reiterated that his priorities are to protect the health of the workforce, execute as much of the mission as possible and ensure members of the workforce take care of each other. He said AEDC personnel have continued to meet the second of his priorities even in the face of adversity.
“Team AEDC’s mission execution throughout the COVID pandemic has been phenomenal,” he said. “We have continued to prove the superiority of systems necessary to meet the demands of the National Defense Strategy at an impressive pace and quality.”
The implementation of work methods such as increased telework opportunities has helped Arnold staff succeed in this objective. Even now, a portion of the workforce continues to split time between teleworking and on-base work.
“This new normal really showcases what is possible in terms of telework,” Geraghty said. “Supervisors are learning that, in certain jobs, their people contribute with excellence whether they’re at their worksite or somewhere else. We can also get better as an organization and institutionalize telework.”
Geraghty said AEDC leadership plans to discuss a wing-wide telework policy at the strategic summit in October. He added telework also offers the potential to solve some space utilization issues if there is not a full-time seat available for every employee on each AEDC installation.
Geraghty expressed his appreciation to members of Team AEDC for their continued vigilance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to thank Team AEDC for what each of you do to protect the health of the workforce, execute the mission and take care of each other,” Geraghty said. “I want to especially thank the leadership team including wing staff, division chiefs and group commanders, branch chiefs and squadron commanders, and supervisors at every level for helping us find our footing and arrive at this ‘new normal.’ You’ve put in tremendous time and energy to figure out how to mitigate health risk while we execute the mission. I have seen time and again examples of people digging in to solve problems for each other and take care of the people entrusted to their care. It’s an honor to serve with you.”
The Arnold AFB coronavirus webpage can be found at https://www.arnold.af.mil/coronavirus/.