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148th Fighter Wing stays mission ready despite pandemic

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DULUTH, MN-- The pandemic has forced many of us to change how we live and work. That's also true for the Minnesota National Guard.

The Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing has a high speed training tempo they couldn't let Covid-19 slow down.

148th Pilot, Lt. Col. Scott Prom, said the extra precautions can be a grind, but they appear to be paying off.

"Our base has stayed healthy and ready without any significant dips," said Prom.

There are reminders everywhere on base that things have changed, including signs reminding people to sanitize their hands and equipment.

The pilot's gear room was crowded in the past as the prepared for flight. Now, they stagger their arrival.

"Once I get suited up, I'll keep my mask on and my gloves on, again just to provide some protection," said Prom.

He is one of the many National Guard members who can't stay home.

The flight crews often work close together, and that means taking new precautions.

"We figured out the amount of time that they were in those positions and then we decided on different types of PPE that we were going to provide for those folks," said Col. Chris Blomquist, 148th Wing Commander.

PPE was hard to come by at first. Instead of slowing down, they found their own solutions.

"We actually made our own masks early on before they were available," said Blomquist. "We also started making visors. We made some extensions for the mask with one of our 3D printers here on the base."

Guard members have been wearing masks in common areas since mid-April.

They've also gone digital with many of their meetings, among other more standard Covid-19 precautions.

When Prom heads out to his hangar for pre-flight checks, interaction with the flight crew is impossible to avoid.

Health officials on base say that's the kind of situation they're now tracking more closely, just in case someone gets sick.

"The biggest thing that we're trying to do here is prevent infection and break that chain of infection so that others do not get sick," said Msg. Christine Sawyer, a Public Health Technician for the 148th.

For Prom, the extra precautions are worth it to stay mission ready.

"It's a small price to pay to be six feet apart, wear a mask, the fact that we can still have camaraderie, the fact that we can still have interaction with our friends that are usually our coworkers," he said.

When their final checks are complete, Prom and three other pilots take off on a training mission.

"We are responsible for the nation's safety and we could be called on at a moment's notice to go anywhere in the world," said Blomquist.

They're serving the state and the nation, and not letting the pandemic keep them grounded.

Bonney Bowman

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