The U.S. Air Force plans to use Biloxi's Keesler Air Force Base as an alternate site for basic training during the new coronavirus pandemic, a press release says.
Later this month, 60 trainees will go to Keesler under the 737th Training Group "to demonstrate proof of concept to generate the force at multiple training locations during contingencies," the press release said.
Normally, groups of 650 to 800 students arrive at Lackland Air Force Base for basic training.
The new plan would stagger smaller groups to allow for social distancing and more frequent cleaning. Starting March 31, about 460 recruits will arrive at Lackland on a weekly basis.
The contingency plan will be in place over an 180-day timeline, which is sustainable for longer periods but not intended to be long-term, the Air Force said.
Maj. Gen. Andrea Tullos, Second Air Force commander, said using Keesler will "provide surge capacity and introduce agility into the training pipeline."
Because of COVID-19, all military graduations are closed to the public, but the ceremonies are livestreamed each Thursday on the USAF Basic Military Training Facebook page.
"These changes are part of our operational mindset to fight through COVID-19 and mitigate force health risks," Tullos said. "We continue to carefully balance the need to deliver mission ready forces to our operational commanders with the force health protection measures we must responsibly take to preserve the welfare of our families and the extensive network of communities across our nation we call home."
Keesler AFB is home to the 81st Training Wing, 2nd Air Force and the U.S. Air Force Reserve 403rd Wing.
Training more than 28,000 students annually, with an average daily student load of more than 2,700, the 81st is a lead Joint Training Installation, instructing personnel from every military service branch including the U.S. Coast Guard. The wing also trains civilian federal agency personnel.
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