BMT adapts to limit spread of COVID-19

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  • By 37th Training Wing Public Affairs and Senior Airman Suzie Plotnikov, 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

To prioritize safety and continue providing ready Airmen to fuel tomorrow’s Air Force, basic military training is moving to a 7.5-week training pipeline. There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges that require adaptability. The 7.5-week training program is one of many measures implemented at BMT to limit the spread of COVID-19.

More than 1,400 trainees will become Airmen at BMT graduation April 9. In total, 30 flights are graduating: 14 are graduating at their 8.5-week mark alongside 16 flights graduating in 7.5 weeks. Graduating both classes in the same week creates additional space on the BMT campus and lessens the number of total trainees present at a time, allowing additional health and safety measures.

A variety of approaches are being used to shorten the training length, such as decreasing time spent on certain drill and ceremony items. To prioritize safety, BMT is transitioning from large-classroom settings to smaller-classroom settings, when applicable, which also saves on transit time. Another change is streamlining the uniform issue process, which not only saves trainees’ time but minimizes strain on mission partners during this time.

BMT leadership team is also working to acquire face masks to provide to staff and trainees. In the meantime, staff and trainees are following CDC guidelines to fashion their own cloth face covering.

Sixty trainees arrived at the proof-of-concept basic military training detachment at Keesler Air Force Base, Louisiana April 7, marking a historic moment for the Air Force’s training program.

The shift is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which will allow the training pipeline to continue and help ensure the health and safety of trainees and instructors while also providing relief to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland’s training infrastructure.

"Wings throughout Air Education and Training Command are in a partnership to be part of the solution to continue our mission-essential role to train Airmen and we are proud to be part of the plan to keep BMT going forward during our nation’s battle against COVID-19,” said Col. Heather Blackwell, 81st Training Wing commander.

This is a contingency option and is not designed to be implemented longer than 180 days, but is designed to be sustainable for longer periods if required.

“We are deliberately developing options to disperse the delivery of BMT during contingencies to provide surge capacity and introduce agility in the training pipeline construct,” said Maj. Gen. Andrea Tullos, Second Air Force commander.

BMT remains vital to renew the force and the delivery of air and space power anytime, anyplace and Keesler AFB’s training mission is already armed with many of the facilities and procedures required to execute the BMT mission. This resulted in the introduction of Keesler AFB’s new detachment, Detachment 5 of the 37th Training Wing.

“We have dormitories, medical support, classrooms, dining facilities, running tracks and workout areas,” Blackwell said. “But most importantly, we have a phenomenal team that’s excited to support this new concept.”

The trainees graduating BMT after six weeks will transition directly into technical training at Keesler AFB or local training detachments such as the Gulfport Naval Training Activity.

Keesler AFB has historically hosted basic training for the War Department and the Air Force, beginning in 1941, and tapering off after 1944, but carrying on until the ‘60s. However, Keesler AFB has not seen the standup of a basic training concept since WWII.

Keesler AFB will take every measure to keep Airmen protected while delivering superior training. Detachment 5 has issued face-cloth coverings to all BMT trainees and will observe all recommended guidance to ensure their safety.

“BMT is a weapon system that feeds every other weapon system across the service,” said Lt. Col. Jerry Hambright, Detachment 5 commander. “The world is watching how the United States responds in this crisis and it is important to show that we will rise up to the challenge, against all odds, to ensure the safety and security of this nation. We will not falter and we will not fail.”