Coronavirus has prompted the Air Force to lessen the number of trainees who report to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland for Basic Military Training, raising concerns about whether the service will be able to maintain its end strength.
JBSA-Lackland is home to the Air Force’s only enlisted recruit training program. Under normal circumstances, it graduates about 3,000 new airmen each month.
But since COVID-19 started showing up in the ranks in March, the Air Force has taken a more staggered approach. It’s bringing in fewer recruits at a time—460 every week instead of the usual 600 to 800—and keeping them further apart to stop the virus from spreading.
Basic training is now operating at about 60 percent capacity, which could eventually lead to manpower shortages and affect the Air Force’s ability to complete its missions around the world.
Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, head of Air Education and Training Command, briefed reporters at the Pentagon on April 10.
“Obviously it's going to set us back,” he said. “But our assessment—with the protocols that we're operating under—is that we have it at the appropriate level.”
As of January 2020, the Air Force had 328,255 active duty members. Webb painted a bleak picture of what would happen to total force numbers if Basic Military Training shut down for an extended period.
“If we stand this capability down for a month, it will take a year to recover,” he said.
Webb said the Air Force hasn’t yet needed to issue stop-loss orders, which involuntarily extend service members’ enlistment contracts. Pentagon officials have been considering stop-loss as an option should coronavirus continue to hobble the Defense Department’s recruitment and training efforts.
“Our assessment is that we don’t have to take other measures, such as stop-loss, which of course is being discussed inside of Washington. We’re not at that point yet,” Webb said.
After completing Basic Military Training, airmen immediately move on to technical training, which is made up of 265 specialties at 78 locations across the U.S., and a few detachments overseas.
Technical training commanders have been given the go-ahead to modify their courses so as to allow for more physical distancing. Those modifications include splitting training into shifts in order to reduce class sizes, increasing remote learning, and moving classes outdoors when possible.
While most aspects of technical training continue, the Air Force has deferred activities which can only be completed in close quarters or large groups.
Air Education and Training Command, headquartered at JBSA-Randolph, has about 30,000 airmen and space professionals in its training pipelines.
Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.
TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.