177th Fighter Wing continues flying during coronavirus pandemic

A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon takes off April 1, 2020, at the 177th Fighter Wing, Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Hunter Hires)

ATLANTIC CITY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.J. – The 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard, continues defending the nation’s borders and preparing for a combat deployment, during the current COVID-19 global pandemic and the continued novel coronavirus outbreak in New Jersey.

“While many organizations have the ability to temporarily stand down the mission or work remotely, the 177th doesn’t have that option,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Bradford R. Everman, commander of the 177th. “With both a federal and a state mission, a frontline Homeland Defense unit like the 177th must find ways to continue to operate, whether it is being ready to launch F-16s on a moment’s notice, deploy to an overseas location in the next year or provide more than 30 Airmen for New Jersey’s response to the coronavirus.”

177th Maintenance Group Airmen, the backbone of any aircraft operation, are keeping the unit’s aircraft ready to fly to maintain world-wide readiness to fight a war anytime, anywhere on the globe.

“The ability of the maintainers to continue generating aircraft while pilots fly combat readiness missions is what separates the 177th Fighter Wing Jersey Devils from any other organization in New Jersey,” Everman said. “When a crisis like the coronavirus hits, units like the 177th don’t have the luxury of taking a knee.  It is absolutely critical that we continue operating to visibly maintain our go to war Readiness in this time period.  If the U.S. were ever attacked by a biological or chemical weapons capable enemy, the current coronavirus pandemic response is exactly what it would look like.”

The maintainers are following established CDC processes for hand-washing, social distancing and disinfecting common areas.

“To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, we switched from in person meetings to virtual meetings and maintainers are keeping to a minimum six-foot distancing to the greatest extent possible,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Leonard, commander of the 177th Maintenance Group. “Of course there are some career fields and jobs that require closer interaction, but quality assurance personnel are staying current on approved chemicals and procedures for disinfecting the aircraft and equipment, and our maintainers are adhering to the guidance to protect each other and safeguard against transmitting the virus.”

Contracted field teams continue to perform upgrades on the Wing’s F-16 fighter aircraft, even as the 177th FW has raised its Health Protection Condition (HPCON) and has adopted additional screening measures for symptoms of the COVID-19 illness upon entry to the base, as well as base-wide.

“As the cases of COVID-19 increase in New Jersey, the Airmen of the 177th Fighter Wing are stepping up to support the state response and sustain local operations,” said Everman. “Under HPCON Charlie, the Wing will continue with essential missions while taking all necessary actions to maintain force health protection.”

New Jersey Army and Air National Guard members are part of the over 19,700 National Guardsmen who are supporting COVID-19 response efforts at the direction of their governors.

“We have taken an oath to protect and defend our state and nation and we will do just that,” said Chief Master Sgt. James McCloskey, the 177 FW command chief. “This is our “go-time”. The country and state are depending on us. I am certain we will meet the challenge and win.”

New Jersey has reported over 37,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 900 deaths due to the virus, to date, at

“We’ll conquer COVID-19, like we do every challenge, in formation,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in a recent COVID-19 social media video message. “Active, Guard, Reserve, Civilian – One Air Force. Fight’s on.”