Hill F-35's still flying

Airmen continue to fly and train with the F-35A Lightning II at Hill Air Force Base despite the current coronavirus crisis.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Department of Defense has issued a 60-day “stop movement order” for all department personnel, uniformed and civilian — a move that will have significant repercussions at Hill Air Force Base.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper enacted the order late Wednesday afternoon. The measure is being taken to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, to protect U.S. personnel and preserve the operational readiness of the nation’s global force, according to a DoD press release.

The order builds upon previously implemented DoD travel restrictions that dealt with foreign travel, permanent change of station moves, temporary duty and personal leave. But the new directive will also impact military exercises, deployments, redeployments and other global force activities, according to the DoD. Approximately 90,000 service members slated to deploy or redeploy over the next 60 days will likely be impacted by the order, the release says.

Hill’s 34th Fighter Squadron is currently deployed to the Air Force Central Command region, which covers the area from the Horn of Africa through the Persian Gulf region, into Central Asia. While current Air Force policy prohibits releasing information about exact deployment locations and time tables, 388th Fighter Wing spokesman Micah Garbarino said the order will temporarily halt the squadron’s (and other Hill groups’) travel itinerary.

“We care about our airmen and their families and we care about our responsibility to the mission,” Garbarino said in a statement. “This will have an impact on all of us, but we understand the need to preserve the health of our airmen and their families and the operational readiness of our force.”

Garbarino said Hill currently has “hundreds of airmen ... deployed worldwide and hundreds who are preparing to deploy” who will all be affected by the order. There are a few exceptions to the order and Garbarino said base brass will be working though those on a case-by-case basis.

“As with every local and national guideline we’ve seen so far with this virus, things could change rapidly,” Garbarino said.

Meanwhile, at home, airmen continue training and flying the F-35 daily at Hill, but the force has segmented its operations to allow time and distance to help prevent the spread of the virus. During segmented operations, the 421st Fighter Squadron and 4th Fighter Squadron and aircraft maintenance units are being rotated on a weekly basis, according to a base statement. When they aren’t flying, airmen are being asked to stay at home as much as possible, only traveling outside for essential activities like grocery shopping, medical appointments and physical fitness activities.

The statement, which was released Wednesday, said there has been one confirmed case of the virus on base so far.

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