ØRLAND MAIN AIR STATION, Norway --
Editor’s note: The names of Airmen are being omitted for anonymity.
The 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron deployed in support of their third Bomber Task Force deployment, all of which have been during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 added an additional layer of precaution that needed to be considered prior to deploying Airmen and B-1B aircraft to perform missions outside of the U.S.
“Leading up to this deployment I discussed quarantine protocols with the host nation”, said the 9th EBS flight surgeon. “I coordinated this with our planning team to ensure we could meet all required timelines for the deployment.”
The flight surgeon served as an advisor and subject matter expert for the BTF’s planning and leadership teams.
“For this BTF my main role was as an advisor for pre-departure strategies in terms of restriction of movement procedures and testing,” said the flight surgeon. “During quarantine I have acted as a liaison with the host nation’s medical team.”
Along with abiding by the standard COVID-19 precautions, the BTF deployers were subject to increased measures to mitigate the possibility of spreading the virus.
“Prior to departure we underwent a tailored restriction of movement to ensure minimal exposure to our personnel,” said the flight surgeon. “We then had a pre-departure COVID test to lessen the chance of anyone with an active case of the virus leaving with the first group that deployed. Our arrival was followed by a 10-day quarantine with two staggered Polymerase Chain Reaction tests, which is in compliance with the host nation requirements.”
Following the 10-day quarantine, the deployed Airmen will proceed with the standard mitigation measures of limited group sizes when possible, mask wear for all members, hand washing and other general hygiene measures.
“These measures are creating an operating environment that is as COVID-free as possible and I really appreciate our team approach to the COVID challenge, thus far,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Stallsworth, 9th EBS commander. “Our approach has been: Continue with the mission, while mitigating COVID to the max extent possible.”
Open communication between the Norwegian and the BTF leadership teams has minimized the possibility of any spread or exposure between deploying Airmen and the host nation personnel.
“We have been working directly with the host nation’s medical point of contact since before our arrival,” said the flight surgeon. “This communication has established access to care for our members while also helping to reassure the host nation that we have taken the preparation for this trip very seriously and have made every effort to ensure we have brought a safe and healthy group of personnel to their nation.”
This BTF will enable 9th EBS Airmen to integrate and train with the Royal Norwegian Air Force and other allies and partners, which will strengthen relationships between the respective forces.
“I’ve challenged our team to be good stewards with the time they’ve been given here; to learn about the culture, take professional development courses or get ahead on their schooling,” said Stallsworth. “Because one fact remains; once we exit quarantine, we will hit the ground running and start preparing for training operations.”
The added restrictions and hurdles that have surfaced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic haven’t hindered the 9th EBS ability to operate and exceed mission expectations.
“Deployments such as these, in the midst of all of the COVID challenges, do nothing but strengthen our alliances and partnerships,” said Stallsworth. “We are conducting strategically-significant moves here.”