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NEWS | April 21, 2020

Working group helps guide pandemic response for JB Charleston

By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

A COVID-19 working group consisting of 15 subject matter experts from multiple mission partners and across three wings at Joint Base Charleston was created to protect the mission and health of base personnel Feb. 28, 2020. 


Through the collaboration of ideas and perspectives, the group’s mission is to create possible solutions and recommendations for JB Charleston leaders.


This allows commanders to make sound decisions affecting the installation and mission during the global pandemic.


Lt. Col. Peter Baldwin, commander of the 628th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron and COVID-19 Working Group co-director, said establishing working groups or teams like this is essential during this time.


“It’s necessary because we can sift and integrate information to facilitate decisions, it syncs communication,” said Baldwin. “That’s why you stand things up like this. It’s been time tested. We have frameworks for how this stuff should look. You can end up with a confused message or unclear intent or posture, a fog, for commanders to make decisions in. That’s the point of what we’re doing, to paint that picture.” 


Lt. Col. Mike Wells, 437th Airlift Wing Chief of Safety and COVID-19 Working Group representative, worked closely with the group in March to brainstorm ideas for the installation and the flying mission of the 437th AW. He said the amount of knowledge in the room and effective communication in planning the posturing of the installation was impressive to see.


“It’s awesome having the opportunity to sit in the same room with representatives from different organizations at the joint base,” said Wells. “It really breaks down the organizational barriers, streamlines communication and makes us more agile in our response capability.” 


From medical to finance, and logistics to aircraft maintenance, the working group gathered feedback from a variety of units to ensure facts were accurate and all concerns or suggestions were noted prior to creating the framework for a recommendation. 


“We’re, in the end, a recommendation body, not a decision-making body,” said Lt. Col. William Parker, deputy commander of the 628th Mission Support Group and COVID-19 Working Group co-director. “We have the core group here and a lot of them represent functional specialties and all have different outlooks. When deciphering all the different guidance coming through, they all have a little bit of a different perspective. We’re able to integrate and synchronize those efforts with this core group of 15.”


Tech. Sgt. Antonio Pegram, 628th Contracting Squadron contracting specialist and COVID-19 Working Group member, said everyone who is part of the working group provides a unique touch to planning and execution.


“We’re a bunch of leaders,” said Pegram. “This is a different league and experience for me.  Everyone here is a subject matter expert in their realm so when faced with a problem, the SME takes the lead. Everyone else gives their input and collectively we come up with a solution to the problem. Lt. Col. Parker or Lt. Col. Baldwin will give feedback, but they respect and support our decisions and determinations from the perspective of our area of expertise.”


Thanks to the help and effort of JB Charleston’s COVID-19 Working Group, DOD members have been able to continue the mission more safely and effectively. The working group provides hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment to mission-critical personnel, offers recommendations to the installation commander regarding base access, evaluates the capabilities of on-base services and delivers crucial information to members of Team Charleston. These are just some actions the group directly helps influence.


“The Joint Base has fundamentally changed - from how we conduct business to the number of people who are granted access to the installation. It hasn’t just been an adjustment for military members.  It’s also been an adjustment for retirees,” said Wells. “They’ve also had to readjust their patterns of life. The working group allows you to reach across the room and talk to a CE [Civil Engineering] representative, an FSS [Force Support Squadron] representative, or even a Staff Judge Advocate.  The ability for us to rapidly effect change is made possible by those at the Emergency Operations Center.”


According to Parker, although the operations tempo has reached a steady state, the working group is ready to adapt to any change in the situation and hopes to coordinate how to get the base and mission back to a standard posture in the future.


“Now we’re looking at what it’s going to look like to slowly start getting back to normal,” said Parker. “We have to look at the local situation here. When do missions return, when do services come back and how does that work? That’s what this group will work on here and provide recommendations to base leadership.”