NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
As the world is learning to adjust to changes ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nellis Airmen are also modifying approaches to accomplish the mission.
In accordance with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Defense, the 99th Force Support Squadron (FSS) and community support agencies shut down non-essential operations to focus on supporting the physical and mental needs of Nellis Airmen, employees, and family members.
“We are working with Public Health daily to provide informed courses of action for the safest ways for us to provide reduced, yet mission-essential services to Nellis,” said Maj. Nicole L. Droney, 99th FSS commander. “The next few weeks and months ahead will be challenging, but we are committed to keeping you safe.”
Fueling the Body
The Nellis Club, with its enormous lunch buffet, hot meal bars and sports bar, is normally a popular place for Airmen and civilian personnel to eat lunch as well as socialize during off-duty hours. In mid-February, when the dining facility closed for renovations, dormitory Airmen began using the Club for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Adapting to combat the spread of COVID-19, the Club has again readjusted operations, but now it is to maintain the health and safety of patrons.
The Club staff is staying flexible with a rigorous cleaning schedule and limited menu options to keep the staff safe, while keeping patrons fed on-the-go. In addition, guests can expect a greeting and reminder to wash hands before entering the food lines, which are now limited to 10 customers at a time with a six-foot distance between each person.
“We simplified the menu and limited options at the grill to increase serving speed and reduce the waiting time for customers,” said Tech. Sgt. Alfred Peckson, assistant facility manager for the Club. “Our goal is to provide great service, but the safety of our staff and customers is our main priority.”
Former Club staples like the Sandwich Bar and Omelet station have been replaced by a take-out only menu and a grab-and-go station. Furthermore, the Club staff implemented a drive-thru/curbside food pick-up option March 23.
“The take-out menu is catching on, and I think it’s only a matter of time until the curbside pick-up gains momentum,” said Cassie Fleck, bar manager at the Club. “Everything about this virus is fluid, so it’s important we stay flexible. A couple of weeks ago, I was working the bar, and now, I’m helping with the register and assisting with the curbside pick-ups.”
While the staff continues to make improvements for mission-essential base employees, it hasn’t forgotten the Airmen living in the dorms. The new two-meal program allows ESM/Meal Card Airmen to come in for a hot meal and then choose a boxed version of their next meal to take with them. Doing so reduces foot traffic, shortens food service lines and promotes social distancing.
“The two-meal program is innovative and, most importantly, it reduces person-to-person contact, limiting the spread of this virus,” said Peckson. “Once we explained it, and the customers saw their options, our numbers have doubled, and we see it increasing.”
Promoting Physical Health
Person-to-person contact is difficult to monitor and control during workouts, when people are moving from machines, to weights, to the locker room; however, the staff at the Warrior Fitness Center are making necessary adjustments to keep the facility open.
First, the staff restricted access to active-duty, Guard and Reserve service members and their family members. To promote social distancing and prevent large group gatherings, the facility staff closed the basketball and racquetball courts as well as the exercise rooms. Finally, the staff posted signs throughout the facility reminding patrons to maintain a six-foot distance when using machines and free weights.
“We are currently doing everything we can to stay clean and keep everyone safe,” said Staff Sgt. Billy Palmer, interim sports director at the Warrior Fitness Center. “We understand how important these facilities are for people’s physical and mental well-being, so we’re not taking the importance of the fitness center remaining open lightly.”
As the staff receives additional support from the 820th RED HORSE Squadron (RHS) Air Force Support Element to disinfect the 11,000-square-foot facility, gym users are asked to do their part by wiping equipment before and after use, and utilizing off-peak hours as much as possible.
“We were supporting the Flight Kitchen before it closed, and now we’re supplementing the fitness center,” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Bickford, programs manager for the 820th RHS Air Force Support Element. “We’re happy to support other services units here on base, especially in these uncertain times.”
For those without fitness center access or are exercising social distancing through telework, the 99th FSS has online fitness resources, such as Wellbeats, TrainHeroic and a COVID-19 30-Day Fitness Survival Kit, said Droney.
“We encourage you all to continue moving your body, staying fit to fight, and staying home to help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19,” she said.
Maintaining Mental Resiliency
While the 99 FSS continues to feed the body, community support agencies have resources to help feed the soul.
“This can be a stressful time navigating the terrain in our changed environment and learning to adapt to this new way of life,” said Jenna Lightfoot, community support coordinator for Nellis AFB, Creech AFB and the Nevada Test and Training Range. “Team Nellis, you are not alone. We got you. We will get through this together.”
The Nellis Chapel, continues to provide sermons, homilies and messages, but is doing so now virtually via the @NellisChapel Facebook page. In addition, chaplains are still available for personal counseling. Those who need to speak to a chaplain can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family Advocacy is also providing a steady stream of services for couples and family members, including Guiding Couples to Better Communication, Anger Management and Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage. Those who need to speak to a Family Advocacy counselor can call 702-653-3881/3880.
“We know, for many people, quarantine life isn’t about Netflix, snacks, and memes – and isolation, stress and sudden changes to daily life can be triggering,” said Lightfoot. “If you’re struggling, please know you’re not alone. Please reach out to one of our helping agencies or resources for support. Take care of yourself, check-in (virtually) with each other and remember to find something ‘good’ in every day.”
Editor's Note: This the third installment in a five-part series highlighting Nellis heroes sustaining operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.