Kunsan Air Base, South Korea — It is unescapable that COVID-19 knows no ethnicities, no job description, no net wealth, no rank in the military, no gender and no borders. It is an international pandemic that has infected over one million people and claimed the lives of over 60,000 globally, with the numbers still rising.

From the time China alerted the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, of an unusual case of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, we’ve seen over 180 countries react in different ways and find themselves in various stages along the coronavirus curve.

Specific to our approach and operations at the 8th Fighter Wing, home of the Wolf Pack, my leadership team and I have been engaged in this fight since January and have been implementing increased health protection measures and travel restrictions for close to three months. This all began a month or two before COVID-19 started having major impacts on the continental United States.

Our team found initial success in approaching the battle through the lens of first “Defending the Base” via tough gate screening measures at our main gate and by standing up a dedicated COVID-19 coordination cell, representing multiple disciplines across the base. The team was key to implementing a robust quarantine program and accurate tracking system. All Air Force bases and U.S. military installations have now imposed similar measures.

However, the greatest challenge now is the potential for complacency, particularly for those locations that remain COVID-19 free. So, the question is, we’re hunkered down for COVID-19, so now what? The answer is maintain your posture. It seems rather simple, but it’s not.

Years ago, during my squadron command tour downrange, my wing implemented a highly effective combined base defense initiative that resulted in a decrease in indirect fire attacks. Many misunderstood the result as a decreased threat outside the wire, which was not the case. The enemy was still present. Similarly, a COVID-19-free environment can be misunderstood/misconstrued as a decreased threat to the wing population overall. This is especially true when the host nation (South Korea in this case) has done an effective job flattening its curve. When in fact, despite the current COVID-19-free environment, COVID-19 is still present/still a threat.

So, the “now what” is our next challenge; educating, motivating and enforcing a culture where everyone understands it takes the entire team to protect the base. Most importantly, everyone must understand it only takes the miscalculation or complacency of one to jeopardize the Pack. The health, safety and well-being of every member of the team, and the wing’s ability to execute the mission, is the responsibility of each member whether they are military, civilian, contractor or family member.

Strategic messaging is critical. Too much communication can overload the team and the long absence of messaging can invite doubt, fear and confusion. Finding the right balance is unique to the wing’s composition and size. Pulling in critical advisers such as the public affairs and legal teams early, often and regularly can help a leadership team best succeed. As commanders set their priorities and remain consistent with them, they better equip their subordinate command teams to disseminate themes and guidance in a clear, concise, correct and timely fashion. My priorities have been, “Remain Vigilant, Remain Healthy, Remain Ready”.

My leadership team and I have found these priorities helpful as we reinforce the importance of strict adherence to physical distancing while balancing social connection, practicing good hygiene and most challenging, reminding the team to stay home if they are not feeling well.

The Wolf Pack messaging is not dissimilar from downtown London when it came under heavy attack by German V-1 and V-2 rockets during World War II. Signs littered the streets across the metropolitan area, reminding residents of the best course of action during their time of crisis.

Our team has found some success reinforcing the importance of physical distancing and hand hygiene through visually creative signs across the base. The team placed wolf paw prints in increments of six feet to mark where members ought to stand when waiting for food at the food court or cash at the ATM, they spread out tables and chairs to ensure six feet remains between patrons, you get the idea.

Finally, it truly takes a team to reach every member of the team; it could be a first-term Airman, who has only been in the Air Force for a few months, or those of us who have been in the military for more than two decades.

Keep the team informed, solicit innovative ideas, stay consistent with priorities, simplicity is the key and communicate, communicate, communicate. Most importantly, remain hunkered down while we fight the only enemy worse than COVID-19 -- complacency. We will get through this together.

Col. Tad Clark is the commander of the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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