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Safeguarding the nukes: StratCom staggers Offutt staffers' shifts to keep COVID-19 at bay

Safeguarding the nukes: StratCom staggers Offutt staffers' shifts to keep COVID-19 at bay

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U.S. Strategic Command is taking action to make sure its nuclear arsenal is ready if needed, even in the shadow of a global pandemic, say leaders of the Offutt-based command.

StratCom has “socially dispersed” its 3,000-member military and civilian staff at Offutt Air Force Base, and throughout the Navy and Air Force commands that maintain its air, land and sea-based weapons.

So far, no one has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at StratCom or in its component commands, Adm. Charles Richard, StratCom commander, told reporters this week at a virtual press conference for the Pentagon press corps.

But he said “fewer than 10” workers at StratCom headquarters have self-quarantined because they had recently traveled to high-risk countries or because of the potential for local exposure. So have 40 other people who work at StratCom’s component commands.

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On Wednesday afternoon, though, the Casper Star-Tribune reported that a service member at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming had tested positive for COVID-19. The base is home to the 90th Missile Wing, which maintains intercontinental ballistic missiles for StratCom across eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

StratCom is allowing some workers to telework, while placing others on alternate work schedules. Watch-standers minimize their contact with one another when they come on and off duty to reduce the chance of spreading a virus. And people are being dispersed to separate work areas.

“We have taken steps internal to the command to separate the nuclear forces,” Richard said. “Both people and equipment have tremendous redundancy and reliability. We have taken full advantage of that.”

He said StratCom and the Department of Defense are following plans that had already been drawn up for a possible pandemic.

“It’s a fluid situation, and we’re taking the utmost precautions,” said Maj. Lindsey Wilkenson.

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