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Pod system helps 80th FTW reduce risk of contracting, spreading COVID-19

80th FTW institutes pod system for training

Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program student pilots use virtual and augmented reality platforms while applying social distancing standards during a training session at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, April 14, 2020. The 80th Flying Training Wing has implemented a "pod" system for its ENJJPT classes that minimize the risk of potential exposure to COVID-19. The specific set-up uses space in Sheppard's Noncommissioned Officer Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Wyatt Kelly)

80th FTW institutes pod system for training

Capt. Maximilian Cluckey, right, an 89th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, debriefs student pilot 2nd Lt. Audrey Wilson while maintaining proper social distancing at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, April 10, 2020. The 80th Flying Training Wing instituted a "pod" system that breaks up its student pilot classes into smaller groups to decrease the potential and risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Megan Morrissey)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Staying synchronized is no easy task for a wing that flies more than 250 sorties in a single day, but the 80th Flying Training Wing’s Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program has stepped up their operational game plan to keep personnel healthy while continuing its mission.

ENJJPT has built their flying schedule to allow pilots to operate within small units of individuals, or pods, as they call it, as another measure to combat the spread of COVID-19 and limit potential exposure to the small groups instead of an entire class. Each pod, consisting of students and instructors, is on an “on-week” and “off-week” rotation.

Col. Stefan Kleinheyer, 80th Operations Group commander, oversees the flying operations and ensures the mission of producing combat fighter pilots for the NATO alliance is effectively carried out. 

“In the past two to three weeks, we’ve been testing out the new procedures and are slowly kicking into gear now. We are facing a very dynamic environment in the upcoming months.” he said. “Accordingly, the speed that we’re going forward with will have to be dynamic, too.”

During each pod’s home week, those individuals are linked virtually with their instructors to study academics and practice their “chair flying” with pod peers.

If a single individual in a pod begins to develop COVID-19 symptoms, then the program instantly knows who that individual was in contact with and potentially exposed. This system allows for a quick response, and all potentially exposed individuals can be removed and put into command-directed isolation. 

All ENJJPT personnel are abiding by the new guidance, including the contractor maintenance team.

“M1 Support Services, who is contracted to provide aircraft maintenance services to the 80th Flying Training Wing, is closely following the Department of Defense guidance put forth concerning the efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Mike Saville, director of M1 Support Services. “We are implementing social distancing, workspace cleaning and personal hygiene in concert with the wing’s guidance. We also have split our entire workforce into two teams, alternating work weeks to further protect the workforce and preserve a maintenance capability in case an employee is diagnosed with the virus and infects a larger group of employees.” 

In addition to the pod system, an army of casual lieutenants awaiting for their classes to start cleans commonly used surfaces in offices throughout the day in accordance to ENJJPT's strict cleaning schedule. 

“If every one of us assumes that he or she is already carrying the virus, we will be disciplined about not infecting others,” Kleinheyer said. “We should be able to keep the case numbers below the capacity of our healthcare system. And then, we all will be protected.”

Col. Russell Driggers, 80th FTW commander, said the spirit of ENJJPT has always been one of rock-solid cohesion, and that focus will continue as Team ENJJPT works to defeat this invisible enemy during “Operation Kick COVID.” The fight against COVID-19 is essential to ensuring the United States and its NATO partners continue to receive highly trained and skilled combat fighter pilots.

“Our wing cannot be the cause of a critical gap in fighter pilots a year from now in a situation that means we are unable to conduct air policing in Eastern Europe,” he said during a March 31 Facebook Live update. “We have the opportunity right now to teach our students how to fight and survive in a degraded environment. And that responsibility to forge a warrior spirit is one that I take very solemnly.”

Driggers will host regular Facebook Live events on the ENJJPT Facebook page every Tuesday and Thursday at 5 p.m. to keep the wing updated and to be as transparent as possible about the evolving COVID-19 situation.