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Temporary restrictions vital to community safety

An Airman speaks into a radio.

Staff Sgt. Steven Conner, medical technician assigned to the 99th Surgical Operations Squadron talks on the radio at the Mike O'Callaghan Military Medical Center (MOCMMC) on Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada, March 20, 2020. Nellis AFB continues to work closely with our federal, state, and local health officials to ensure our detection and response efforts are coordinated. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --

The past few weeks have been filled with uncertainty and at times it can feel like there are more questions than answers. Like many Americans, we have added coronavirus to our everyday vocabulary. We have picked up new skills, like making face coverings and taken to swapping household essentials like toilet paper and eggs with our neighbors.   

These are challenging and unprecedented times and at Nellis Air Force Base we are working together and doing our part to flatten the curve.

Because what happens here is essential to the Air Force mission and our nation’s defense, we have adapted how we execute our mission – including making informed reductions – to ensure we meet our essential mission requirements safely and smartly.

On Friday, April 3, I made the difficult decision to declare a public health emergency and temporarily restrict base access to Active-Duty, Guard, and Reserve service members and their families, as well as essential Civilian and Contractor personnel. I made this decision to limit the amount of people who can access the base as we work to stop the spread of this virus. 

Nellis Air Force Base is our Air Force’s crown jewel; it is unmatched in its mission accomplishment and in the sense of community we all enjoy. However, Nellis is, above all, a bastion of national security; and in times like this, I have to keep the base as safe as I can for the people who must be here to accomplish the mission and our families who live on the installation. I owe them that and my decision to restrict base access was driven by that solemn responsibility.

Some have asked if the intent is to restrict everyone except essential personnel from the base, why isn’t access limited to a specific list of people? The Nellis mission is complex – there are more than six wings represented on base and more than 110 different units.  Most of those units have some level of essential missions that must continue. When exactly those missions happen and who needs to support those missions is very fluid and not something that can be neatly plotted. And so, to make access as simple as possible for my Defenders and allow fellow commanders maximum flexibility to execute their mission, I have not mandated that commanders provide lists of names of mission essential personnel or the dates they should be allowed access.

Instead, I have chosen to trust my fellow Airmen to come only to the base when their mission and household necessity dictates they do so. So far, that trust has been well-placed and I do not expect that to change.

I trust the rest of our community too, and I hope you trust me when I say that I look forward to the day we can re-open the gates of our installation to all members of our Armed Forces family. I will do so as soon as I can mitigate unnecessary health risks for the entire Nellis community. I understand the frustration and inconvenience this causes, but these restrictions are necessary to protect our essential personnel and residents while executing our critical mission.

For those of you with continued base access, it is my desire to keep as many services available as health and safety allow. When you are on the installation, I expect you to follow proper social distancing and cover your face when you cannot, to wash your hands regularly and rigorously, to avoid touching your face, and to stay at home if you are sick or if your trip is not for mission execution, needed household items, required medical care, and the like.

This is my first global pandemic too, and I appreciate your partnership and support as we navigate it together. The only way we get through this pandemic is together as a team. Our collective top priority right now is for the safety of those executing the mission to protect our national security. Risking mission failure amid this pandemic is not palatable to any member of the Armed Forces, past or present.

In times of crisis, Americans have always pulled together and come out stronger on the other side. The coronavirus pandemic is no exception. I look forward to your continued leadership.  Together we’ll get through this.