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NJ Guard's 177th Fighter Wing still flying during pandemic

An image of A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon taking off April 1, 2020, at the 177th Fighter Wing, Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon takes off April 1, 2020, at the 177th Fighter Wing, Egg Harbor Township, N.J. The 177th FW continued flying to maintain worldwide combat-readiness and homeland defense during the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Hunter Hires)

ATLANTIC CITY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.J. (AFNS) -- The 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard, continues defending the nation’s borders and preparing for combat deployment during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“While many organizations have the ability to temporarily stand down the mission or work remotely, the 177th doesn’t have that option,” said Col. Bradford R. Everman, 177th FW commander. “With both a federal and a state mission, a frontline homeland defense unit like the 177th must find ways to continue to operate, whether it is being ready to launch (F-16 Fighting Falcons) on a moment’s notice, deploy to an overseas location in the next year or provide more than 30 Airmen for New Jersey’s response to the coronavirus.”

The 177th Maintenance Group Airmen, the backbone of any aircraft operation, are keeping the unit’s aircraft ready to fly to maintain world-wide readiness to fight a war anytime, anywhere on the globe.

“The ability of the maintainers to continue generating aircraft while pilots fly combat readiness missions is what separates the 177th Fighter Wing Jersey Devils from any other organization in New Jersey,” Everman said. “When a crisis like the coronavirus hits, units like the 177th don’t have the luxury of taking a knee. It is absolutely critical that we continue operating to visibly maintain our go-to-war readiness.”

The maintainers are following established processes for hand-washing, social distancing and disinfecting common areas.

“To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, we switched from in-person meetings to virtual meetings, and maintainers are keeping to a minimum six-foot distancing to the greatest extent possible,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Leonard, 177th Maintenance Group commander.

Field teams continue to perform upgrades on the Wing’s F-16 fighter aircraft, even as the 177th FW has raised its health protection condition (HPCON) and has adopted additional screening measures for symptoms of the COVID-19 illness upon entry to the base and base-wide.

“As the cases of COVID-19 increase in New Jersey, the Airmen of the 177th Fighter Wing are stepping up to support the state response and sustain local operations,” Everman said. “Under HPCON Charlie, the wing will continue with essential missions while taking all necessary actions to maintain force health protection.”

New Jersey Army and Air National Guard members are part of the almost 22,000 National Guard members who are supporting COVID-19 response efforts across the nation at the direction of their governors.

“We have taken an oath to protect and defend our state and nation and we will do just that,” said Chief Master Sgt. James McCloskey, the 177 FW command chief. “This is our 'go-time.' The country and state are depending on us. I am certain we will meet the challenge and win.”

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