COVID-19 ops: Phased approach to normal, questions answered

As restrictions are projected to lift or be further redefined, the German community is employing a phased approach to reopening commerce, schools and other functions previously considered a daily norm.

One step in this phased approach includes opening stores with less than 800 square meters while enforcing a restricted number of customers in the establishment at any given time. Additionally, local schools will begin convening as early as May 4. However, this will be done slowly starting with the children requiring exams for progression.

Brig. Gen. Mark R. August, 86th Airlift Wing commander and Chief Master Sgt. Ernesto Rendon, Jr., 86th AW command chief, were joined by Carl Carpenter, Army and Air Force Exchange Service general manager, to answer questions from the Kaiserslautern Military Community regarding expected changes affecting the base and base facilities.

Below are summarized answers to some of the questions fielded during the session.

The 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs team partners with Armed Forces Network Kaiserslautern to broadcast the virtual town hall over multiple platforms simultaneously from Ramstein Air Base, April 20. The town hall was recorded via Facebook live, as well as broadcast over AFN Kaiserslautern to the 66,000-member community. (U.S. Air Force Photo taken by Airman 1st Class Andrew Alvarado)

Can U.S. members use German establishments such as barber shops once they open?

Yes, please support the local community and small businesses feeling the impact. It’s also important to comply with local guidance and restrictions.

Are there any changes to the status on gyms?

We are deliberately going through the phased approach to relaxing the limitations that have been imposed on all of us since the beginning of the coronavirus disease 2019 posture change. We are going to be in lockstep with the local government. At this time, there has been no change to the status on gyms. That’s not something we are looking to do immediately, but it’s a part of our phased return to normal here at Ramstein.

Where do we stand in our guidelines specific to travel?

There is no change to the policy memo currently in place for active-duty service members or Department of Defense civilians. The memo will remain in place until we see what the Germans are going to do.

Is there a plan to reopen any of the smaller shops in the KMCC, similar to off base?

Yes, some stores have begun re-opening. There is a limit of three people at a time in the shops.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kirsten Brandes, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Social Media noncommissioned officer in charge, explains the usage of streaming equipment to a guest before the virtual town hall at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 20, 2020. Town halls have been held weekly by the base as a tool to distribute mass information to the Kaiserslautern Military Community. (U.S. Air Force Photo taken by Airman 1st Class Andrew Alvarado)

With the restrictions on large gatherings, what does that mean for the Freedom Fest? Have we canceled the Fourth of July?

The Fourth of July would never be canceled: that is our Independence Day. However, how we will celebrate it as Americans may be different. Our Force Support Squadron is working hard to continue the planning process, and we may see it push to the right and become a fall fest. August 30 is what we’re operating on as of right now, so that would make it unlikely that we’ll have a Freedom Fest like we’ve experienced in the past. We want to hold off that decision as long as possible.

Is there a way to limit the amount of people in the store to help with physical distancing?

Our main exchange is 160,000 square feet. If we use the German standard of one person per 10 square meters, we would allow 1,500 people in the store at a time. The standard many U.S. retailers use allows five customers per 1,000 square feet, which would allow 825 customers at any one time. Our sales records and review of customer traffic tells us we do not have that many people in our store at any one time. Please continue to maintain your physical distancing, and if you see others congregating please ask them to separate.

Do we expect our schools to reopen on May 4?

Our Mission Support Group is working closely with Department of Defense Education Agency to figure out the way forward. We will get the information out as soon as it is available.

Is it possible to reopen the golf course?

Our Operational Planning Team is diligently working with Public Health to prioritize the list of facilities as we continue to work towards normal. As facilities re-open we will make sure that information is available on the official Ramstein website at

Will the Shoppette begin expanding hours again after May 4? Where do we find out what stores are opened and their hours of operation?

U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Jason Perry, Armed Forces Network Kaiserslautern broadcast engineer, adjusts the settings on his remote equipment during the town hall event at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 20, 2020. The audio is captured and streamed back to the station where it was broadcasted over radio. (U.S. Air Force Photo taken by Airman 1st Class Andrew Alvarado)

We will continue to assess the Shoppette hours. At this time it will not be open 24 hours. Current hours of operation for AAFES facilities are posted on the official Ramstein website, as well as the Exchange (Ramstein/KMCC) Facebook page.

Instead of covering our faces at the gate, can we just leave the window up and scan through the glass?

Our Defenders tested this and found that the scanners are not as effective through the glass. As a result, we ask you to continue to comply with the face coverings.

Are we still restricted to 30-kilometers distance from home?

That is a squadron-level restriction. Please talk to your supervision and squadron leadership to determine what policy has been put in place.

How will it work for high school students going off to college? Will they get waivers to fly stateside?

If your student is not flying on specific orders, the stop movement does not apply. If you are paying for your own ticket, you have some discretion in making those things work. Please reach out to your schools, pay attention to what’s going on in the U.S.: are they even going to hold in-person classes? Many schools have already canceled student orientations.

Will teleworking be emphasized as places reopen?

Teleworking was initially driven by the Health Protection Condition level and physical distancing protocols. We are still in HPCON Charlie. It has always been up to squadron leadership teams to identify and determine who is required to come to work and who can telework. We will continue to work hard and get you the latest and best information.

Will non-essential goods be roped off to discourage mingling within the Exchange?

There is no plan to rope off any portion of the store. Please continue to adhere to physical distancing protocols and if you see people congregating, step in and ask them to please separate.

Is it possible to get Value Added Tax forms?

The VAT office is still open by appointment only. You can call 06371-47-5309 to set up an appointment or to get any VAT-related questions answered.

Can people still donate blood?

Yes, you can! The only thing different in the COVID-19 world is you need to make an appointment. The donor center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center can be reached at 06371-5464-5762.

The full virtual town hall video can be viewed on the Ramstein Facebook page. Visit the official Ramstein website at and go to the COVID-19 tab located in the top-right side of the page for the most up-to-date information.