Vital treaty monitoring mission continues in wake of COVID-19 response
By Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs
/ Published April 07, 2020
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The commander of the Air Force Technical Applications Center, the organization charged with monitoring nuclear activity around the world, has made it his priority to ensure his workforce is doing all they can to make AFTAC a “hard target” while also flattening the COVID-19 curve.
Since the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S., Col. Chad Hartman and his leadership team, headquartered at Patrick AFB, Fla., have been taking diligent steps to provide uninterrupted access to critical scientific data used by national decision makers regarding nuclear activity across the globe.
Concurrently, Hartman wants to make sure his team stays connected and up-to-date on virus-related situations as they evolve, and that includes ensuring AFTAC family members are also well informed.
To do that, he’s taken steps to separate his workforce into two groups to protect the health of the Airmen and their families while safeguarding mission readiness.
“The approach is simple,” said Hartman. “We’ve divided into two teams – one Silver, one Blue. When the Blue team is in the building executing the mission, the Silver team remains at their alternate duty location to ensure we’re not ‘crossing streams’ while practicing exquisite social distancing. I need every Airman – civilian and military -- and their immediate family members to remain healthy. Having two teams that don’t cross paths is one effective way to do just that.”
The center has adapted to the distance between its members by employing online methods of communicating, including the use of social media and teleconferences.
Hartman took full advantage of the modern technology at his fingertips and scheduled a Town Hall meeting April 3 with his Command Chief, Chief Master Sgt. Amy Long, for AFTAC members and their families. More than 500 people logged on to the audio-visual conferencing platform to listen to the colonel and chief communicate updates to the AFTAC team.
“This was an incredible opportunity for us to maintain our social distance, avoid crossing streams, yet still deliver information to the incredible men and women who are getting the job done, whether that job is here in the building executing the mission or at home, taking care of their families’ needs,” Hartman said.
The commander also carved out several minutes for a question-and-answer session.
“We had no less than two dozen questions posed through the chat mechanism from the participants, and it was great to see so much engagement and interest in what folks can do to help get through this unprecedented time,” said Long. “These are tough times for many of our Airmen and their families, so anything we can do to help get them through it is a testament to the fantastic leadership we have in our officers, civilian leaders, senior noncommissioned officers and key spouses. I’m so proud to see everyone come together as a cohesive unit.”
Questions during the Q&A portion of the teleconference revolved around subjects like childcare options, physical fitness training, civilian timecard procedures and when the commander thought AFTAC would return to “ops normal.”
“One of the topics I discussed during the town hall was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which addresses the five basic categories that motivate human behavior,” said Hartman. “Maslow demonstrated that people have both foundational needs like food, water, sleep, safety and shelter, as well as more complex needs like social interaction. As human beings, we all need those things, but the coronavirus has interrupted both foundational security and more complex social interaction needs that we normally take for granted. The key is to realize that the stress and anxiety caused by the coronavirus interruption of these needs is 1) natural, and 2) common to all. I thought it was important to discuss those issues during the town hall so folks know they’re not alone if feeling isolated, and although we are physically distancing to combat the virus, we can and will stay connected.”
Long told the 500+ participants that they needed to treat the COVID-19 response as a marathon rather than a sprint.
“This is our new norm,” she explained. “Adversity doesn’t discriminate, so it’s important for us as leaders to demonstrate the importance of resiliency. It’s natural for people to feel the weight of the circumstances on their shoulders, but it’s equally important for us to stay connected and understand that all of us adapt to adversity in different ways and at different speeds, and that we’ll get through this together as a team.”
Hartman plans to host other town hall conferences periodically, and he encouraged his squadron commanders and superintendents to stay connected with their respective co-workers using the communications methods available to them.