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With holidays approaching, AEDC commander advocates greater caution to prevent virus spread

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --

Count the seriousness with which his workforce has taken the COVID-19 pandemic among the things Arnold Engineering Development Complex Commander Col. Jeffrey Geraghty is grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Team AEDC is continuing to follow Geraghty’s policy aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 while accomplishing the AEDC mission despite the challenges that accompanied the virus.

But another health threat has reemerged. The return of the seasonal flu, coupled with the increased chances of virus transmissions due to many staff members gathering with friends and family for the holidays, has prompted Geraghty to urge continued vigilance among the military personnel, contractors and Department of Defense civilians who make up the AEDC team.

The arrival of flu season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic poses an increased risk of illness. Geraghty said AEDC employees should continue following the proper COVID-19 mitigation behaviors while taking steps to guard against the seasonal flu.

“Keep up the health practices that reduce the risk of getting sick and passing diseases on to your friends, family and co-workers,” Geraghty said. “Wash your hands, wear a mask within 6 feet of each other, and get vaccinated.”

The approaching holidays are also a cause for concern on the COVID-19 front. Geraghty said AEDC team members should be mindful of the dangers gatherings may present, and he encouraged continued caution while away from work.

“We take risks to be close to people we love,” Geraghty said. “Think about those risks and think of others when you decide how to gather. Consider how you can minimize the risk of transporting the novel coronavirus in your community. I’ve seen numerous examples of our partners in the community thinking of others before themselves, wearing masks in their business centers and asking their patrons to do the same. These simple behaviors will make it slightly less risky to spend time with family and friends over the holidays.”

In an effort to safeguard the health of its workforce, several operational plans and postures have been effected at Arnold Air Force Base during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arnold AFB, the headquarters of AEDC, remains in the second of a three-phase Return to Full Capacity, or RtFC, plan. This phase took effect in mid-June, just two weeks after the initiation of RtFC Phase 1 on June 1. Prior to entering RtFC Phase 1, Arnold AFB conducted business in an Operationally Urgent posture. During this posture, which took effect on April 6, the number of 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 base for work with the implementation of each new phase. Along with enhanced screening for base entry, measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 at Arnold have been required throughout the RtFC phases. These include the wearing of masks in common areas around base, such as hallways and restrooms, and requiring masks to be worn anytime a person is within 6 feet of another whether indoors or outside.

As they have throughout the RtFC phases, Geraghty and AEDC Superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Robert Heckman are continuing regular walkabouts of Arnold to help ensure employees remain in compliance with Geraghty’s mitigation policies. Geraghty said he and Heckman have observed that adherence has remained steady in the months since the RtFC plan was initiated.

“On base, Team AEDC continues to follow the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) protocols that are designed to protect our health,” Geraghty said. “As we continue to follow these simple rules, we prevent the virus from spreading from person-to-person on base.

“However, outside the gates, widespread community transmission continues as the virus finds plenty of individuals who are willing, perhaps unwittingly, to transport the virus to its next host. As a result, the overall infection rate of AEDC personnel fairly steadily matches the infection rate of the surrounding community. Thankfully, as of this writing we have not lost a teammate to COVID-19.”

The RtFC framework allows for regression to previous pandemic-related operating postures if it is deemed necessary to protect employee health. Geraghty said nothing he has seen thus far indicates the need to take a step back.

“I can’t rule out having to regress, but as long as we keep doing the things the CDC recommends to mitigate risk and contain the spread, we will be able to keep getting the mission done at full capacity,” he said.

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 the workforce has continued to diligently meet those priorities.

Methods used to ensure mission execution include increased telework opportunities. Geraghty said telework has continued to prove very effective and a broader implementation in the future is now being assessed.

“Supervisors are encouraged to start to determine exactly how productive it is for each employee,” he said. “For example, if they have five employees teleworking right now and one of them accomplishes 80 percent more work than the rest, that’s probably the employee you’ll want to have accomplish the remote workload when we establish a new telework policy.”

Geraghty also wished to address the members of Team AEDC. Fittingly, it was to share a message of gratitude.

“Thank you for taking care of each other, protecting health and getting the mission done,” he said. “It’s an honor to work for Americans who are committed to service before self.”

For more information on AEDC protocols, the RtFC framework and COVID-19 statistics in areas surrounding Arnold AFB, visit the Arnold AFB coronavirus webpage at https://www.arnold.af.mil/coronavirus/.