SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Sheppard has improvised, adapted and overcome many of the obstacles caused by COVID-19, and leadership continues to apply procedures and precautions to ensure training continues.
One of Sheppard's technical training squadrons has adapted a new training schedule to spread out classes to reduce potential spread of the virus.
The 361st Training Squadron adjusted their training schedule beginning March 24 to accommodate the new status quo of social distancing. Classes were split up into two shifts: day shift, from 7 a.m.-4 p.m., and swing shifts, from 3:30-10:30 p.m.
“When COVID-19 began to impact the United States and social distancing became one way of combating the spread, I proposed to the flights to come up with a plan,” said Maj. Kelly Collier, 361st TRS commander. “Within that same week we adjusted to move half of our operations to swing shift. [By] moving 50 percent of our operations to swing shift, we reduced the number of personnel in the school houses, transiting to and from the dorms and in the dining facilities (DFACs).”
Master Sgt. Jennifer Jackson, 361st TRS F100 swing shift instructor, said the propulsion school house would have around 175 Airmen in Training rotating constantly and 54 civilian and military instructors during normal operations before COVID-19. Not only did the swing shift change reduce the number of people in the hangar at one time, but it also allowed a cleaning period between shifts to sanitize equipment and surfaces.
Jackson and Tech. Sgt. Enrique Jovel, 361st TRS aerospace propulsion swing shift instructor, said the change in shifts were done quickly and relatively easy as they and their fellow instructors were already expecting a change to happen due to the news and the health guidelines set by the Secretary of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jovel said because they are aircraft maintainers, they already had experience with multi-shift operations as most aircraft maintenance units have 24-hour coverage. The change, he said, can actually have a positive effect on the Airmen in Training to give them insight on future assignments.
He said despite losing an hour of instruction time, instructors have made up for it with time management skills. He said they push their swing shift classes a little harder, but this gives them a more relatable experience to an active aerospace propulsion shop.
Jackson said she actually sees swing shift students benefiting from the new schedule. She said they are able to get in a workout, eat, study and perform other tasks so that by they time they get to the schoolhouse, they are more alert.
Jackson and Jovel also said swing shifts have less interruptions during school hours in the evening such as medical appointments. Jovel said with summer on the way, working in the cooler afternoons and evenings is a welcome benefit.
The instructors said there have been challenges with the new schedule, including the benefit of having civilian instructors on swing shift. The late shift has been staffed with all military instructors, some who volunteered because of the change of pace.
Jackson said the students and military instructors are missing out on the opportunity to learn from the civilian cadre. But, she said, she prefers to keep a swing-shift operation.
Collier said swing shifts have been done in the past, but the squadron has never had to move so many classes at one time. She said the operation is necessary for the time being, despite some of the challenges.
“We changed our schedule to limit the interaction/contact of personnel and to limit the chances of spreading COVID-19,” the commander said. “There are many training objectives that we must complete that does not allow us to social distance. So by spreading people to different shifts we, were able to limit contact opportunities and reduce the potential spread of the disease so that an entire school house would not get ill and forced to shut down.”
The 361st will shift back to having as many classes as possible on day shift when it is safe to, Collier said, based on the installation HPCON level and advice from public health. But for now, force health and safety is the priority.