“Our Number 1 priority is the protection of our soldiers, our civilians and our families.”
That was the message sent to those watching the news conference members of the Fort Rucker command held via Facebook March 26.
Maj. Gen. David Francis, the commanding general of the United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker; Command Sgt. Maj. Brian N. Hauke, command sergeant major of the Aviation Branch; and Fort Rucker Garrison Commander Col. Whitney Gardner held the virtual news conference to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the Home of Army Aviation.
“Incredibly proud,” is the way Francis described his reaction to the response of the military installation as a whole and the local communities of soldiers, civilians and family members. “It is truly remarkable,” he said.
“Our priorities have not changed,” Francis said during the Facebook event. “Our Number 1 priority is the protection of our soldiers, our civilians and our family members. That is priority No. 1 and has not changed.
“Priority Number 2 is the protection of our critical mission here,” he added. “We supply pilots to our combat aviation brigades across the Army that still are required to deploy, fight and win even during this crisis and so our mission here is absolutely critical to the operational force of the Army.”
As of March 30, access to Fort Rucker is limited to only Department of Defense identification card holders, according to Fort Rucker Pubic Affairs Officers David Agan Jr. “Contractors will be required to provide their DA Form 1602 and driver’s license or U. S. Government Common Access Card.
“All juveniles age 16 and over are required to have their U.S. Government Dependent ID card for entry to the installation.”
The issuance of all future visitor passes will be suspended and personnel with an approved visitor pass will not be allowed access to the installation with the exception of all routine commercial delivery operations accompanied with an official bill of lading and personnel that have a valid Veterans’ Administration/Health ID card.
Restaurant and food deliveries—unless the driver has a DOD ID—and taxis and Uber-like services will not be permitted access to the installation.
Those who feel they have a true need to enter Fort Rucker are directed to send an email to email@example.com 48 hours prior to the visit.
Fort Rucker will pause some of its flight training for about 810 students for two weeks but will continue instructor pilot training, the maintenance test pilot course and fixed wing training that is held in Dothan. “This will keep 154 students still training.”
Francis said the pause will give the post a chance to address how it cleans aircraft and simulators between flight periods and allow it to get COVID-19 test kits on post for more immediate testing.
“While we are curtailing flight operations for a period of time, we are not closing Fort Rucker; we are not closing the post,” Francis said. “Our maintenance of the largest helicopter and fixed-wing fleet in the Army will continue just like we’re doing it right now.”
Francis said a Warrant Officer Class had recently begun comprised of 40 candidates. That class will continue, he said.
The elementary school on Fort Rucker is closed as are other Department of Defense Education Activities schools. “The DODEA schools have done an incredible job of rapidly transitioning to a Google classroom,” Francis said. “We’ve had 93 percent attendance in those classes so the students are doing a great job, the teachers are doing a great job.”
Francis said that Fort Rucker has no positive cases of COVID-19 but does have 183 individuals currently in quarantine for 14 days. Twenty people have been COVID-19 tested with 15 negative results and five results still pending.
Leave for soldiers is restricted to a 50-mile radius from Fort Rucker. “This restriction is in place to protect all of us,” Francis said, asking that military personnel not have visitors from outside the 50-mile radius.
“Stay vigilant, stay disciplined,” Hauke encouraged the soldiers as he explained that physical training will be done individually for the duration of the precautionary measures. “The expectation is that as professionals you get out there on a daily basis, do the physical fitness training and get it done.”
Gardner, who essentially serves as the mayor of Fort Rucker, outlined ways people can stay informed about the operational updates on post to include social media and the installation’s website. “To prevent and protect,” is the purpose of any precautionary measures, he said. Temperature screenings at the commissary and Post Exchange entrances will begin.
“The inconvenience that we bear right now could potentially save lives,” Francis stressed. “And we each have an individual responsibility in this effort to make that happen.”