By Dana Heard, 55th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 29, 2020
Airman Matthew Wigley, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare technician, converses with Airman 1st Class Zachariah Hampton, 55th Strategic Communications Squadron tactical radio technician, inside the Kisling Hall dormitory May 28, 2020, here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Charles J. Haymond)
As the United States military works to balance mission accomplishment with the health of its service members amid the COVID-19 pandemic, dorm residents are also working to accomplish a balance.
They must stay healthy, active and engaged while maintaining social distancing standards, all while living close to one another.
Many of the dorm residents are under the age of 25 and have no family in the region. The job they are trained to do, and the way they prepare to do it, has changed to meet the current challenges.
The Airmen at Offutt who reside in the dorms meet that challenge head-on by safely engaging in physical activities while maintaining a safe distance and healthy attitudes toward each other, all while doing what they can for the mission. Some work from home while others still report to their workplaces. What used to be usual is not so ordinary since they have to maintain a safe distance from their coworkers.
“They are handling the pandemic situation well by observing sanitary precautions handed down by base leadership," said Airman 1st Class Erika Mitchell, Turner Hall dorm chief. "They are wearing masks and maintaining social distancing by using tape on the floor measuring in 6-foot increments.”
Mitchell’s typical day includes approximately 13,000 steps walking, or she goes running. She’s also studying the Career Development Course program to complete her 5-level training. She lost her sister last year, and that temporarily set her back because she found it hard to focus. She recovered and had found solace through work. Just a few months later, she made a perfect score on her career development course test.
Now spending less time at her work center, Mitchell has dedicated her time to helping fellow dorm residents through this challenging time. To help her fellow Airmen cope, Mitchell contacted marketing to get framed posters with information about Military and Family Life Counselors dormitory residents can talk to and mounted them in the dorms.
“Mitchell has demonstrated high enthusiasm to volunteer and help those that need her the most," said Tineke Bell, 55th Civil Engineer Squadron Unaccompanied Housing Management section chief. "She’s one of the first ones to respond whenever needed for any special projects.”
Airmen have also found a variety of creative ways to positively occupy their time through new hobbies, non-contact sports and upgrade training. One has even enrolled in a free computer class offered by Harvard University. However, living close to hundreds of people and not being able to reach out to them can be isolating and lead to feelings of loneliness.
“The young men and women who reside in our dormitories make us proud every day by exhibiting core values handed down through the ages," said Chief Master Sgt. Brian C. Thomas, 55th Wing command chief. “The same innovation that has kept the U.S. Air Force on the cutting edge of future technology and ahead of their adversaries is being practiced and demonstrated every day by our Airmen as we find creative solutions to the problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"But just like with any other act of innovation, it takes a team -- they are not alone," Thomas added. "Offutt leadership recognizes the uniqueness of this challenge and the hardship it is causing, and we are here to help in every way that we can.”
Along with the options presented by Mitchell, Offutt offers a wide variety of resources to help Airmen through these trying times. If in need of assistance, Airmen can contact one of the many resources listed below.
Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate: 402-235-1731
Domestic Abuse Crisis Line: 402-235-1731
Mental health clinic (during duty hours): 402-294-7411
Military Family Life Consultant (for adults): 402-679-8820
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Military OneSource: 1-800-342-9647
Sexual Assault Response Coordinator: 402-232-999