The first graduating class of nearly 60 airmen proved the concept, and now basic military training will continue, starting June 2 at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a conference call Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Andrea Tullos, commander of Second Air Force at Keesler, said the base plans to receive 60 recruits a week through the last week of September. Active duty, guard and reserve personnel training also will continue at Keesler.
This was the first time since 1968 that basic training was held outside Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Keesler was selected to help with social distancing, and because many of the airmen transfer to the base in Biloxi once they finish basic training in Texas. Tullos said much of the risk of exposure to coronavirus is through transit.
“This allows us to just keep them here at Keesler and get them right into their technical training,” she said.
“All of the airmen who graduate at Keesler will stay in the area for technical training,” Tullos said.
Keesler has technical training in 160 fields such as air traffic control, weather and cyber security and trains more than 28,000 students a year.
Each recruit is screened for coronavirus when they arrive at the base, kept on restricted movements for 14 days and tested again. They wear masks while in groups, and Tullos said they will be closely supervised when the weather gets hotter and more humid in Biloxi this summer.
The recruits can always get them into shade or an air conditioned facility and while inside the living area can remove their mask.
She described some of the challenges in this first proof-of-concept training at Keesler:
- The base in Biloxi is smaller than Lackland and has dormitories rather than open-bay quarters that required some maneuvering to achieve social distancing.
- There are things the Lackland team does that they’ve been doing for decades that proved challenging, she said, like issuing uniforms, sizing them and getting them tailored.
- That first haircut in basic training is a “significant emotional event,” she said, and the Biloxi barbers had to learn to cut their hair without socializing.
- The training area at Camp Shelby , north of Keesler, hadn’t used before.
- Medical professionals at KAFB, who had never done some of the procedures, quickly learned how to process recruits.
- Basic training was shortened to six weeks, down from eight and a half weeks, due to the physical layout at Keesler, the small number of recruits and a surge schedule of training for 10 hours a day, six days a week, versus eight hours per day.
The biggest question was the impact COVID-19 would have on fitness and stress on the cadets, Tullos said. The training schedule was revised to give them a more gradual schedule to achieve physical requirements.
The scope and size of Keesler make it like having their own little world, Tullos said, where recruits in basic training and those in technical training can see each other across the drill field.
Keesler Field hosted basic training during World War II and it continued in some form until the 1960s.
This basic training program is temporary, designed to operate for no longer than 180 days, but Tullos said it can continue for longer if required.
©2020 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.