Air Force Cancels Red Flag Alaska, But Moves Forward with Other Training

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An F-15 takes off while an F-16 taxis on the flightline during RED FLAG-Alaska.
A U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle takes off while an F-16 Fighting Falcon taxis on the flightline during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 19-3 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Aug. 8, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Zade Vadnais)

The Air Force has canceled one of its cornerstone aviation exercises in light of the coronavirus pandemic. But the service plans to continue other training, albeit with reductions and protective measures including "social distancing" in place.

Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the service has already canceled Red Flag-Alaska 20-1, which had been scheduled for April 30 to May 15 at Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

"What I anticipate happening is, we will put in place procedures to actually be able to continue exercises ... albeit perhaps at a lower rate," he told reporters in a Wednesday briefing. That could include fewer troops participating as they practice social distancing and adhere to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, he added.

Per guidance from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Goldfein said combatant commanders have the authority to decide whether they can carry out a local exercise, if it doesn't require bringing in additional troops across state or international lines.

Related: Troops in Europe Face Limbo Following Canceled Exercise, Travel Ban

The Defense Department guidance, issued March 11, imposes a 60-day ban on travel for service members, military families and Defense Department civilians to all countries designated as "Level 3 locations" by the CDC due to the widespread transmission of COVID-19.

"I think what you'll see is, we'll make individual decisions on a rolling calendar as we look at every exercise," Goldfein said. "Right now, we're early enough in terms of the number of exercises canceled that it's recoverable."

The "few hundred folks that come to Red Flag," for example, are now able to stay at home bases and follow appropropriate guidance on coronavirus response, he added.

Goldfein said seven active-duty airmen have tested positive for COVID-19. He was unable to provide the latest figures for the Guard and Reserve.

Lt. Gen. Dorothy A. Hogg, the surgeon general of the Air Force, said additional cases are confirmed daily among DoD troops.

"We do know that our cases will increase, just like they are in the general public, and so we are paying attention to those cases and identifying contacts and implementing measures to decrease exposures," Hogg said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Read more: More COVID-19 coverage

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