An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 3, 2014.The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)


Commander shares insights on June UTA

  • Published
  • By Col. Kevin Merrill
  • 919th Special Operations Wing Commander
As we prepare for the June Unit Training Assembly, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss some recent developments and the steps we’re taking to return to our “new normal” at the 919th Special Operations Wing.

There are still COVID-19 cases in the surrounding community, but the active disease prevalence has been trending down for the past several weeks.

This means that we have met the criteria to begin loosening restrictions and allowing more individuals to return to the workplace. The Eglin Air Force Base installation commander directed the next phase of COVID-19 recovery begin on Tuesday, May 26, 2020 and the Hurlburt Field installation commander directed their next phase begin on June 1, 2020.

This reduction in restrictions will allow us to start working on some non-mission essential tasks that cannot be completed through telework. I have asked squadron commanders to take a hard look at ways to maximize readiness while taking a measured approach at returning our Airmen to the workplace. I have also advised that personnel who can continue to telework do so. The Secretary of Defense Stop Movement Order is in effect until June 30, 2020, which also impacts who can return to the workplace.

Following the new guidance, the June UTA will include maximum telework, with more people returning to the workplace than were able to for the April and May UTAs. The focus of in-person and on-base activities is to complete hands on readiness and proficiency skills training that can’t be done virtually. Please contact your chain of command to see how this will specifically impact you.

With more individuals in the workplace, we must continue to maintain an environment with heightened hygiene precautions, physical distancing, use of face coverings, and limited gatherings in line with Centers for Disease Control guidance.

We are already taking small steps to start the return to normal. Last week we re-opened the fitness pad and our fitness center, with some restrictions, to eligible members. The shoppette and food truck on base are open for lunch to keep our Airmen fed. I intend to continue opening up more activities and services as conditions in the local area allow.

I remain impressed by the measures you are all taking to mitigate the challenges presented by COVID-19. You have done an amazing job attacking our wing’s priorities despite being physically distant from Duke Field. You’ve used innovation to increase readiness, strengthen partnerships, and develop personally and professionally.

A few examples of the great things that have been happening around the wing include:

- Our Communications Squadron continues to keep our people connected. They’ve installed software, configured computers, issued laptops, and developed requirements for additional technology purchases. They did all of this while reducing their trouble ticket count by over 50 percent.
- Our Medical Squadron increased individual medical readiness rates across the wing despite some members working remotely. They completed virtual record reviews, virtual deployment availability working group meetings, and various administrative functions to keep the wing ready.
- The 711th Special Operations Squadron accomplished training for upcoming missions and deployments. COVID-19 didn’t slow them down at all!
- The Inspector General staff conducted several inspections and assisted squadron members with inputting information into the Management Internal Control Toolkit and Inspector General Evaluation Management System.
- Our Resiliency Support Team created a number of virtual activities including dance classes, a cooking course, and a virtual financial management class. They remain available to help anyone who needs them.
- The POTFF Team has daily posts to help strengthen mental and physical resiliency.
- Across the wing, we’ve seen people work on personal professional development and developing their Airmen. Training and administrative tasks are still being completed.

These times can be challenging, but you have all met the challenges head on and are excelling! We’re stronger now as a wing than we have ever been. This is because of you!

Looking forward to July, I expect that states and communities will continue to reduce restrictions.
Assuming that happens, I would like to bring more members of our wing back to Duke Field for the July UTA.

Please continue using good risk management as restrictions lessen at Duke Field and in your local communities. We have a responsibility to keep our community, our fellow Airmen and ourselves safe.

Finally, I want to thank you and your families for all you do. Your dedication and sacrifice do not go unnoticed. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this team!