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COVID 19: An Opportunity in Disguise?

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ne. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." Also, when it’s dark, sometimes good things happen. Almost overnight COVID-19 hit us and we are now in a challenging place. However, at the 52nd Network Warfare Squadron, we are used to trials and view this crisis as an opportunity.

The past few years have been a challenge for the men and women who call Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, home. Located in America's heartland and just a few miles from the Missouri River, in 2019 Offutt AFB had a historic 100-year flood that destroyed a large portion of the base and caused 420 million dollars’ worth in damage. 

Just as the base community came together and began to re-build, the COVID-19 outbreak occurred, further impacting the base community. The men and women of the 52nd NWS haven’t let the one-two punch of flooding and COVID-19 keep us down.  

Faced with the adversity of a 100-year flood and a historic pandemic, the 52nd NWS used this "opportunity in disguise" across three major areas to ensure a resilient and agile operation capable of adapting to evolving mission requirements.

Technology – We proactively embraced new technology to complete cyber training sorties. We successfully conducted our first ever virtual unit training assemblies and annual training. Five years ago, this would not have been possible. 

We incorporated new systems, including the Cyber Virtual Range and Microsoft Teams to make the mission happen. Embracing these new systems has taken our game to the next level. The benefits of this new way of doing business have fundamentally altered our operations and will permanently make us a better fighting force.  

Lodging – The 100-year flood caused a strain for on-base lodging; effectively reducing available rooms by 90%. To deal with this challenge, unit leadership was forced to think outside the box and incorporate virtual UTAs and flexible drill dates to reduce unit lodging requirements. The unit also obtained a lodging purchasing agreement with three local hotels, enabling a more efficient mechanism to procure and pay for lodging.

Fitness – Unit leadership has continued to make fitness a priority and believe Airmen in good physical condition are more resilient. The 52nd NWS has pushed hard to make sure that members maintain fitness levels during the pandemic. Unit members have been allotted time for each drill and on annual training to maintain fitness. 

Also, the unit has made team fitness events a priority. As an example, last September, the squadron took first place in the 960th Cyberspace Wing’s Suicide Awareness 5K event. The competition ranked units based on unit participation. The 52nd NWS completed the 5K with 100% unit participation. 

When we look back after the crisis, what will we say? Will we have spent this time saying it's unfair? Or are we taking that time to make something good out of something bad? Just like with the flood of 2019, the 52nd NWS has capitalized on the crisis and, as a result, is now better prepared for the next one. 

We know the next crisis will be unexpected and that it won't be pleasant, but it will be an opportunity that we won’t waste.