While COVID-19 virtual town halls will soon be a distant memory, 86th Airlift Wing leaders took a final opportunity June 19 to go “live” via the Ramstein Facebook page and provide updates to the Ramstein community.
Brig. Gen. Mark August, 86th AW commander, Chief Master Sgt. Ernesto J. Rendon, Jr., 86th AW command chief, and Maj. Joseph Baldwin, 37th Airlift Squadron pilot and Operational Planning team lead, each delivered some good news.
August opened the town hall by announcing that Ramstein reduced its health protection condition from Charlie to Bravo. Throughout HPCON Charlie, base access was restricted to only those with official business, so the move to Bravo comes as a welcome change for members hoping to once again sponsor visitors on base.
HPCON Bravo doesn’t mean a complete return to normal operations. August reminded personnel many customer service areas still require appointments.
Rendon delivered new guidance for those wanting to travel.
“For a very long time we’ve communicated that leave is restricted to Germany…and also we were encouraging that you don’t leave Rheinland-Pfalz. The good news is that really is no longer the case.”
Rendon said new guidance from U.S. Air Forces in Europe allows Airmen to take personal leave outside German borders: However, he emphasized travelers need to factor local guidance into their planning.
“You need to know what provisions and what hygiene standards are applicable where you want to go,” said Rendon.
He also mentioned that unit commanders have the ability to exercise boundaries based on mission requirements.
“As always, make sure you are talking to your leadership chain because they may have some unique mission requirements that will pertain to you.”
Before opening the floor for questions, Rendon turned the discussion over to Baldwin, who has been involved in rolling out a new in-processing system.
“COVID-19 has made us in-process a little differently and we are looking to capitalize on some of those changes to make it better for people coming to Ramstein in the future,” said Baldwin.
Baldwin mentioned that in the past, base newcomers were inundated with tasks and information which is overwhelming for those adjusting to jetlag or life in a foreign country.
“We are looking at providing newcomers better information prioritized via the USAF Connect app as well as the newcomer’s website, which will be completely revamped and reorganized to give you prioritized information,” said Baldwin.
The goal is to ensure information is easily accessible to personnel before and after arrival.
“The Ramstein in-processing line as we know it is going to go away,” said Baldwin. “The newcomer’s brief that we’ve had so far is going to get truncated and focus more on a base welcome and introduction.”
Baldwin emphasized that an information fair will still be available for those wanting to ask face-to-face questions.
August agrees the new way forward is a game-changer but asked for feedback as the changes roll out. He encourages sponsors and units to continue to take care of inbounds to ensure that transitions are as smooth as possible.
What follows are summarized answers to several questions fielded during the town hall.
With the base now in HPCON Bravo, are the fitness centers still opening on schedule?
Yes. The Southside Fitness Center is already open by appointment only. All three Air Force fitness centers will be open by June 25 by appointment only. But, we lost a lot of capability because people made appointments and then didn’t show up to their appointment. Please help the whole team — check six for your wingman, make sure they show up to appointments on time. Supervisors — if they’ve scheduled an appointment please let them get to that appointment.
Can someone highlight the in-processing changes specific to civilian personnel and tenant units?
The changes we are making are going to be applicable to people across the board. That includes civilians, 86th AW personnel and tenant units.
During the RIP Line, representatives typically assist newcomers with their Defense Travel System travel orders, will this change?
This level of customer service will not change; a finance expert will still assist newcomers with filling out their voucher.
Can you explain the online RIP line process?
The RIP line is going away. The new process will be a revitalized and prioritized process to help newcomers find information and access it before and after arrival.
If an incoming spouse and children are quarantined for 14 days, will they be unable to take their driver’s license test or look for a house out in the community with their active duty sponsor?
You’ll be able to knock out preliminary work, but as long as we still have requirements for quarantine, when you arrive here in Germany that will be the posture.
We see there is a virtual housing and other such briefings, but we need to print out a packet. How are we doing this if we aren’t able to leave TLF?
There are a lot of resources available. Because this is an official function, you can use your unit’s printing capabilities, ask your sponsor or even begin printing documents prior to arrival.
Being able to access in-processing information on an app sounds great, but what about newcomers without cell service when they arrive in Germany?
We are making this new information as widespread as possible. It will be available via commercial internet on the Ramstein website and via the app. There’s Wi-Fi available on base and we are working on setting up a computer lab for newcomers. Also, please rely on your unit and sponsors to help connect you with the information you need.
What’s the plan for the 4th of July?
Normal base events won’t be the same as they’ve been in previous years and we are unable to support fireworks. We can’t have large gatherings this year or host the typical Freedom Fest. We can encourage you to visit the 86FSS website at https://86fss.com because there will be a series of smaller events to help people celebrate Independence Day in a safe way.
When can we get relief from wearing face coverings in areas like the Base Exchange or commissary?
We aren’t going away from face coverings anytime soon. We will be driven a lot by what the local government pushes out. I expect this will remain our posture; face coverings are a common-sense approach. It’s agreed upon worldwide that face coverings help protect others from the spread of COVID-19.
Are travel exception to policy letters (ETP) still needed if both origin, journey, and destination are “green”?
Even though we are HPCON Bravo, Ramstein Air Base is not a “green” installation due to our service’s capability, specifically our childcare capability. Please reference the Ramstein website with flowchart of what’s needed as there’s no simple answer at this time.
What is the average processing time for ETPs once they’ve been routed to Brig. Gen. August?
I clear out my ETP inbox each day, I can say pretty comfortably if it makes it to my inbox I can get it back to you within 24 hours. This is our primary job, to take care of our Airmen.
I’m having a hard time understanding the Robert Koch Institute website to find out where the “hot spots” are located.
The easiest way to break it down is to go to our COVID-19 page to access the “heat map” and then avoid the red. Remember to check it on both departure and return because things change daily.
What app will we be using for newcomers?
The USAF Connect app. Download the app and select Ramstein Air Base as your organization. This is an ongoing effort which will be available in early July.
The full virtual town hall video can be viewed on the Ramstein Facebook page. Visit the official Ramstein website at www.ramstein.af.mil and go to the COVID-19 tab located in the top-right side of the page for the most up-to-date information. Visit the newcomers page to learn more about in-processing.