JACKSONVILLE, Florida (NNS) -- The nation is facing one of the worst pandemics in over 100 years, but no one would suspect that if they visited Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi. The McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk training aircraft are still buzzing the skies and students safely fill classrooms.
Despite the challenges brought on by teleworking and social distancing, the Public Works Department (PWD) continues to support the Installation’s mission to train the Warfighter “to fight…from the sea.”
To accomplish the workload, the PWD split its shops workforce into two separate teams, Blue and Gold teams.
“This concept allows fewer people to be present in the workplace at any given time, thus reducing the risk of spreading the illness,” said PWD Meridian Facilities Engineering and Acquisition Division Director (FEAD) Lt. Kristi Gordon. “Each team works four 10-hour shifts, structured with the appropriate combination of trades to respond to all routine, urgent and emergency service calls.”
One team works Monday through Wednesday on site and teleworks on Thursday. The other team teleworks on Wednesday and works on site Thursday through Saturday.
This clear separation allows the off-going crew to sanitize their spaces so that the oncoming team enters a clean environment. “This helps to keep the entire team safe,” said Gordon.
In the event that a team member tests positive for COVID-19, the affected team is placed in a restriction of movement (ROM) status while the other team is recalled to cover operations until members can safely return to work.
Additionally, the two-team construct allows the PWD to perform work on Saturday, when the airfield is normally closed.
“With the flexibility created in the work rotation, we have been able to reduce overtime costs associated with a traditional workweek and we have seen an increase in productivity rates since implementing the plan,” said Gordon.
The FEAD, which oversees all service and construction contracts for the installation, has taken advantage of various technologies to hold virtual preconstruction conferences and contract negotiations to ensure that construction continues.
“Our industry partners have been working closely with leadership to implement daily health screenings, to utilize protective equipment such as facemasks, and to practice social distancing in order to balance the safety of the workforce,” said Gordon. “They are following the CDC guidelines side-by-side with us.”
The FEAD leveraged its flexibility with the contracting process by utilizing its janitorial services contract to expeditiously issue a task order to clean the Child Development Center after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
“By using this tool, we were able to complete this task in less than 48 hours,” said Gordon. “Although the center remained closed for 14 days to ensure no other staff members were at risk, the rapid response of our contracting team enabled the center to return to normal operations as soon as possible, minimizing the impact to mission essential personnel who depend on the center for childcare.”
NAS Meridian may be small, but their mission is vital to fleet readiness in support of the national strategic defense.
“In my time here, I have noticed many folks call it Mayberry,” said Gordon. “It’s a quiet and unassuming place nestled in the hills of rural east central Mississippi.”
The NAS Meridian mission of training the Warfighter includes qualifying hundreds of jet pilots and Navy and Marine Corps enlisted logisticians annually, the majority of whom join operational forces around the world within weeks of departing Meridian.
“Allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to negatively impact the training pipeline of these Sailors and Marines would prove detrimental to the fleet for years to come,” said Gordon. “The dedication and commitment of the people of PWD Meridian to maintain continued facility and base operations is a force enabler.”
The ability to remain flexible and adapt to change is the main driver for the team to accomplish the mission in spite of COVID-19. Lessons learned from this unprecedented event will undoubtedly influence future operations to keep the Navy, Marine Corps and Department of Defense team ready at all times.