MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho- The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a significant change in how some individuals and groups can continue to operate at their jobs. For retirees, this has become especially difficult.
"Some people are choosing to withdraw their separation and stay in the military due to the state of the economy right now," said Airman 1st Class Kendall Smith, 366th Force Support Squadron retirement and separations technician journeyman.
Due to the current conditions, this also will have an effect on how Airmen who are retiring conduct their retirement ceremonies.
There is still help. Organizations such as the Military Personnel Flight’s Separations and Retirement section are making changes in order to support retiring Airmen, and in addition systems such as the Transition Assistance Program are also making adjustments to continue the support amid the pandemic.
Tina Patterson, 366th Force Support Squadron TAP manager says that TAP is a congressionally mandated program that prepares members to navigate from the military to civilian life after they have completed their service.
Given the current circumstances, TAP has to use alternate methods of communication in order to help Airmen with retiring.
“Due to COVID-19, all in-house classes have been canceled through May, so the Airmen and Family Readiness Center staff are utilizing one-on-one over the phone and teleconferencing to provide initial counseling, pre-separations counseling and capstone,” Patterson said.
The Separation and Retirement section assists Airmen that are in the process of leaving the Air Force. Like TAP, they also had to adjust to the sudden changes and challenges.
“Briefly there was a travel restriction on all members trying to go on terminal or permissive leave but that was quickly lifted,” Smith said. “Now members are out-processing regularly, but they’re having trouble with their checklists due to the minimum manning base-wide.”
In order to minimize the spread of the virus, new methods were necessary for the Separations and retirement section.
“The entire MPF has had to cut down on the customer flow,” Smith said. “We are only doing appointments now to stop the spread of the virus.”
The new methods also meant that there were going to be new changes in how retirement ceremonies were conducted.
“All official retirement ceremonies have been canceled,” Smith said. “Members can have a small gathering with their commander to compensate, but that is all that is allowed.”
Chief Master Sgt. Marcus Ashby, 366th Fighter Wing A4 superintendent, is one of the retirees who had to get accustomed to the new rules surrounding retirement ceremonies.
The changes led Ashby to the idea of conducting a virtual retirement ceremony.
“Initially, the restrictions we were placed under affected the number of people that were able to gather which settled, for a while, with a 10 person limit,” Ashby said. “With that restriction, I felt I could still meet the intent by having my wife, children and parents present. I have always enjoyed the retirement ceremonies and felt it could still be performed for my family as long as we did the traditional parts and pieces via video clips.”
Because of this idea, on April 16, 2020, Ashby received his certificate of retirement and was able to conduct a special retirement ceremony.
Even though the pandemic is causing big changes around the world, the organization's and system in MHAFB continues to find a way to take care of Airmen and get the mission done.
"We aren't going to let any interruption in service keep us from ensuring members are prepared," Patterson said. "Right now, our mode of delivery has changed but not the heart and passion behind it."