The historic COVID-19 pandemic did not force the movement of any missions from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which remains Ohio’s largest single-site employer, Col. Thomas Sherman said Wednesday.
“It was amazing to see what was in the realm of the possible and what became the realm of reality in getting things done,” said Sherman, who will hand off command of the 88th Air Base Wing in nine days to his successor, Col. Patrick Miller.
Leaders at Wright-Patterson are already discussing the next phase in the sprawling Air Force base’s gradual reopening.
“What I can tell you is that we’re actually in discussions right now on when do we think there might be a window for phase 2 operations, how are we seeing the trend lines, what is the data we’re looking at,” Sherman said. “Our experts are really working deliberately.”
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Miller was expected to arrive at the base Wednesday or Thursday from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
He and Sherman will have a week or so to work together before a private change-of-command ceremony set for June 12 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. That ceremony will be live-streamed on Facebook.
The 88th Air Base Wing acts as “landlord” to the base’s 30,000 military and civilian employees and 115 missions.
Since late March, only about a tenth of those employees have physically worked on the base, which is mostly located in Greene County. Since May 18, that number has approximately doubled, with about 6,000 employees back on the installation. The remainder continue working from home and other locations.
“What we have proven is that here at Wright-Patterson, our missions here can actually conduct operations and do the work of the United States Air Force in a virtual environment,” Sherman said. “It was amazing to see how much we could accomplish in that.”
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He expressed confidence that the base will return to what he and others often call “the new normal.”
Whatever that new normal is, Sherman believes the base is ready for it.
“Wright-Patterson is incredibly important to the strategic mission of the Air Force, incredibly important,” he said. “When you look at it as an acquisitions platform, a research and development platform, an educational platform, a life-cycle management platform, a whole variety of other mission-sets, these are very, very critical aspects to ensuring the future of our Air Force.”
Sherman touched on an array of topics in a more than 30-minute talk on Wednesday. He said it was too soon say definitively whether the Air Force Marathon and related races will be held in September this year.
“Much like major races across the country right now, we are going through a full evaluation standpoint on this, and I can tell you our Air Force Marathon team is putting in a lot of discussion, thought and analysis into this, with our public health, our resource personnel,” he said, adding: “They are also reaching out to race coordinators throughout the country and looking at what their logic lines are.”
The construction and expansion of NASIC — better known as the National Air and Space Intelligence Center — is still on track, Sherman also said.
“There’s preparatory work that’s taking place right now,” the colonel said. “The project is moving through its phases. Obviously, just like any project, there may be some minor details on exact start dates. But no, it is moving forward.”
Asked about the possibility of the Dayton region and Wright-Patterson winning the permanent headquarters of the U.S. Space Command — something regional advocates have set as a goal — Sherman said it would be premature for him to comment.
“We see the potential of why Space Force is so important,” he added. “There are discussions and analyses that are taking place on a very broad spectrum right now, and I will probably have a better appreciation of that in my next job.”
Sherman’s next assignment will take him to the Pentagon, where he will be principal military assistant to the deputy secretary of defense.
He thanked Dayton and the Wright-Patterson community, saying several times that the base and Dayton are inseparable.
“The base is the community, and the community is the base,” Sherman said.