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Military & Veterans' Issues

Military Leaders Share Strategies To Keep JBSA Personnel Safe From Coronavirus

Carson Frame / TPR News
JBSA officials held a virtual town hall meeting on March 11, 2020 to discuss force protection measures. From left to right: Maj. Gen. John DeGoes (59th Medical Wing), Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman (502nd ABW), and Chief Master Sgt. Chris Lantagne (502nd ABW)

Joint Base San Antonio is taking steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus on the installation and in the wider community. Base leaders held an hour-long virtual town hall Wednesday night to answer questions about force protection. More than 31,000 viewers tuned in.

JBSA-Lackland is home to the Air Force's only enlisted recruit training program—graduating about 40,000 new airmen each year. Because those trainees live and work in close quarters, they are especially vulnerable to coronavirus transmission.

“If one case gets through, it’s much easier to transmit to the entire pipeline,” said Maj. Gen. John DeGoes, commander of Lackland’s 59th Medical Wing. “If many get infected at once, it would really impair the mission.”

The 37th Training Wing, which administers basic military training, has increased sanitation protocols in certain facilities.

“So, the standard cleaning within the barracks continues. We just did an increase in regards to ensuring the sanitation of traveled areas--stairwells, things of that nature. The dining facilities are always cleaned three times a day,” said Col. Michael Newsom of the 37th Training Wing.

Base liberty has been modified for those making their way through basic military training. For now, they must remain primarily in dormitory and eating areas—and can’t wander the base. Incoming Air Force recruits to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland are being screened for coronavirus with a series of questions.

Part of the base’s force protection strategy involves preventing large gatherings of people.

Town hall viewers asked several questions about the Air Force’s March 10th decision to prevent families from attending basic military training graduations. Would-be guests were told they could view the ceremony via Facebook livestream instead. Graduations take place weekly and are usually attended by 1,000 to 3,000 people.

Gen. Lenderman expressed sympathy for the affected families.

The Possibility of Working Remote

Lenderman fielded several questions about the possibility of some JBSA personnel working from home. She said she encouraged the practice but couldn’t issue any kind of order.

“This is a good time to consider teleworking. It depends on the mission, and it’s truly up to the commander.” 

Lenderman added that JBSA’s civilian personnel offices are gathering information about remote work options—and passing it along to different commands.

The Effect on Military Medicine

Military medical facilities in San Antonio are preparing for coronavirus patients, and advising people to be on the lookout for symptoms like headache, fever and chills.

Maj. Gen. DeGoes of Lackland’s 59th Medical Wing said those who think they may be infected should call ahead before going to the doctor.

“We’ve armed, if you will, our central appointment management line for military beneficiaries, TRICARE beneficiaries, with a protocol of how to come in safely.” 

DeGoes added that military health facilities in the city can isolate sick patients right away—and that all intake areas are ready with hand sanitizer, masks and other preventives.  

The 59th Medical Wing has instituted virtual mental health visits in some cases, especially for JBSA personnel who choose to self-quarantine.

“While we’re balancing prevention and social isolation, we don’t want to have problems go unaddressed,” said DeGoes.

The Military Nurse Advice Hotline number is 800-874-2273.

Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.