By Lt. Col. Drew Gehler | 21st Mission Support Group
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The 21st Mission Support Group began its transition to support the first Space Force Base under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. But from the beginning, Col. Kirsten Aguilar, 21st MSG Commander, was empowered by the the late Col. Thomas Falzarano, former 21st Space Wing Commander, to take immediate action to protect the Airmen and civilians who operate both Peterson Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado.
The squadron commanders of the 21st MSG moved out at a blistering pace, and the innovations and efforts by each unit in this unprecedented time stand as a testament to the flexibility, ingenuity and commitment of MSG Squadron Commanders across the Air Force.
The 21st Logistic Readiness Squadron reduced on-site manning by nearly 70% in response to COVID-19 restrictions, but all shops remained operational to handle mission requirements, whether in-person or through telework. They imposed physical distancing and mask policies to limit exposure, and they mandated periodic disinfections in high-traffic areas. Nearly all meetings were rescheduled to be held virtually, and the LRS modified significant ceremonies like reenlistments and promotions to comply with Department of Defense and Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
At the onset of the pandemic, the 21st Communications Squadron knew it was at the forefront of a massive shift from supporting in-office operations to supporting thousands of users working from home. While the 21st CS adjusted missile warning, air warning and space domain awareness operations to preserve the force and continue the no-fail mission, they addressed urgent needs from the wing, NORAD and USNORTHCOM, US Space Command, and Space Force headquarters.
They transformed HQ USSF/S3/6 conference room into their COVID-19 CAT (10 computers and four phones in two hours) and enabled 24/7 pandemic support to the entire service. They also used inactive lines typically used to support the annual NORAD Track Santa mission to alleviate increased demand on telephone lines, developed a call tree solution to support the 21st Medical Group’s drive-thru pharmacy in less than a day and delivered a technical solution to meet NORAD & USNORTHCOM’s command center requirement to enable a sustainable pandemic posture.
The 21st Contracting Squadron knew that Team Pete would need a lot of hand sanitizer, so they executed three bulk buys in an attempt to get out in front of demand. When that did not succeed, they pushed guidance and authority to units to make smaller hand sanitizer purchases in the interim.
To meet disinfection service requests from NORAD/NORTHCOM, the 21st SW, SPoC/USSF and CMAFS, they developed a portfolio of 6 contracts to provide recurring preventative disinfecting along with a robust surge capability in case multiple facilities were contaminated at the same time. Additionally, we worked with the 21st Force Support Squadron, N-NC and MWC to contract for on-base lodging and meals for their crews that were directed to go into isolation.
The 21st Civil Engineer Squadron went into high gear, producing Plexiglas screens for nearly all customer service centers and areas across both Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson, as well as at several restricted area entry control points. By reducing manpower to small shifts, they maintained project development, executed base maintenance, and maintained emergency response capacity through the fire department that supports CMAFS, Peterson and the civilian flight line.
The 21st Security Forces Squadron teamed members of the operation section, then staggered shifts and work cycles to limit any exposure to a small number of Airmen. All SFS Airmen were instructed to wear masks and gloves. Further, SFS Airmen volunteered as ID checkers at the base exchange and commissary, and they acted as assistants to the 21st MDG at the drive-up testing point and pharmacy, placing themselves at greater risk in order to support the mission.
Some of the 21st SFS Airmen worked with the 21st FSS to set up the inaugural Space Force Fitness Challenge, in recognition of the need to get Airmen out of the dorms and working out, as well as to celebrate the standing up of the Space Force Delta units and the merging of Peterson AFB, Schriever Air Force Base and CMAFS under one wing commander and one mission. Further, they showed flexibility and ingenuity in supporting NORAD NORTHCOM strategic missions through adding additional security measures, screenings and posted sentries, keeping the number of cases of COVID-19 to nearly zero throughout NORAD NORTHCOM and the 21st Space Wing during the heaviest rates of infection.
During the outbreak, the 21st FSS limited the number of personnel in each of the work centers while still supporting the critical support locations such as the childhood development center, dining facility, civilian personnel offices and military personnel flight customer service areas. Their flexibility and innovation ensured the success of all strategic missions despite the pandemic.