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Critical national defense mission keeps AEDC open amid pandemic

Chris Easterly, an ironworker, welds a joint on a C-1 pipe support stand April 1 in the Model and Machine
Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. Easterly is wearing a welding helmet with a powered air purifying
respirator (PAPR) and a hood, which provides protection from smoke and fumes. The PAPR is not required
for welding non-stainless steel, but is being explored as a risk mitigation option for when craftsworkers
need to be closer than six feet apart to complete the task. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

Chris Easterly, an ironworker, welds a joint on a C-1 pipe support stand April 1 in the Model and Machine Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. Easterly is wearing a welding helmet with a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) and a hood, which provides protection from smoke and fumes. The PAPR is not required for welding non-stainless steel, but is being explored as a risk mitigation option for when craftsworkers need to be closer than six feet apart to complete the task. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Ground testing for critical Department of Defense projects will continue at Arnold Engineering Development Complex while mitigating the risks during the Coronavirus pandemic.

That means some employees will stay on-the-job and the Complex will remain open. Tunnel 9 in Maryland temporarily halted operations for three days last week due to the governor’s directive to stay at home. There are more than 447 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Montgomery County where Tunnel 9 is located, but the facility is already up and running again after reconfiguring the control room and other spaces to enforce social distancing and other protective measures.
NASA limited access to the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex at Ames Research Center in California, to mission essential only personnel after the governor’s order to shelter in place at home. AEDC manages and operates the facility at Ames.

The 704th Test Group at Holloman, Kirtland and Wright-Patterson Air Force Bases and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., continues select tests while following the personal protection guidelines at their respective bases. Other geographically separated units at Eglin, Edwards, Peterson and Hill Air Force Bases are likewise complying with local guidelines.

“I want to thank each of you for the efforts you’ve put forth to continue the mission to the best of your ability throughout this time of rapidly changing guidance and restrictions,” said AEDC Commander Col. Jeffrey Geraghty. “AEDC leaders at every level have done an excellent job preparing to mitigate health risks while enabling us to continue our important national defense mission for the long term. Those of you who get the mission done have acted with confidence and poise amidst all these changes.”

A memo released by DOD Acquisition Chief Ellen Lord cites a White House statement from March 19 referring to the defense industry as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Defense companies “are expected to maintain their normal work schedules,” even as state and local governments tell private companies to close.

“We need your support and dedication in these trying times to ensure the security of this Nation,” Lord said. “I understand that this national emergency presents a challenge and we are dedicated to working closely with you to ensure the safety of the workforce and accomplishments of the national security mission.”

In a recent Facebook message, Geraghty stated his three priorities for the base – in priority order:

1. Protect the health of the workforce;
2. Execute the mission;
3. Take care of each other, to include yourselves.

As more people started to contract the virus nationwide, one of Geraghty’s first acts was maximizing telework and encouraging defense contractors to do the same whenever possible. There were also travel restrictions and changes at the gate. Security personnel ask a series of questions before entry onto Arnold AFB is allowed. Anyone considered high risk or who has been in a virus hot spot is denied access. Deliveries are also more challenging, to include food services and items needed for test support. However, base
leadership has devised methods to substantially mitigate the already small health risk imposed by such deliveries.

Another measure to protect the workforce involves personal protective equipment in situations where social distancing is not attainable. Additional protection includes completing an enhanced screening process mandated by the wing commander. In-person meetings are limited to 10 people or less and many meetings are held using other methods of communication such as telephone, virtual meetings, etc.

The AEDC Model Shop is building models and making modifications to test areas; security and fire personnel, power and water personnel are on the base each day with the engineers and craft personnel who are conducting tests. The Operations Center is staffed with both government and contractors around the clock 24-7.

Col. Geraghty said he wants the people of AEDC to know how important they are to him and to the nation. “I’m communicating your value to national defense when I contact city, county and state officials. The military, government civilian and contractor workforce at AEDC really is second to none. That is why I have implemented the strictest
guidelines in the Command to reduce the risk to the health of the workforce.

All DOD facilities remain at a minimum Health Protection Condition Charlie.

For the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 at Arnold AFB, be sure to check https://www.arnold.af.mil/coronavirus and the AEDC Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/ArnoldAir-ForceBase/.