JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md., March 25, 2020 —
To My Fellow Airmen,
I have moved your cheese. If you’re not familiar with the reference, check out the author Dr. Spencer Johnson. The book he wrote, which has made the rounds of professional military education reading lists for years, was first published in 1998. By coincidence, that’s the same year I began my Air Force service. As we’ve responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the tough choices we’ve had and will have to make I’ve thought a lot about the oath I took in 1998 and I’ve also thought a lot about Dr. Johnson’s book. Throughout a career that was shaped by the events of 9/11, I can honestly say I’ve never been more profoundly moved and humbled by our Airmen than I have been in the last two weeks.
This installation and the missions it supports have completely reinvented themselves to maintain combat and diplomatic power for the Nation, meeting a domestic enemy, COVID-19, head on. Two weeks ago, our medics made the change from supporting to supported force. Their creativity and bold leadership have provided a critical capability to our community while maintaining, as best they can, the routine care we’ve become accustomed to. This is not an easy feat to accomplish.
The folks we all have passed by every day while they stock shelves at the commissary or ring us up at the Exchange have become critical nodes in this fight. Our caregivers at our child development centers and housekeepers in lodging have impressed us at every turn. They have all chosen the more difficult path to provide, to the front lines of this fight, the support that is needed. They are dealing with the same challenges of children home from school and grocery store shelves that are bare, yet they are here every day. They did not take an oath like I did.
I feel like I’ve done a lot of talking the last two weeks, especially with the community that supports and depends on this installation. I don’t think I’ve had the chance to speak directly to the Airmen of the 11th Wing. So here it goes. We will get through this. You represent the best our Nation has to offer. You are responding to this pandemic with strength, grace and compassion.
The pandemic has turned what we’ve been taught about caring for our families and ourselves upside down. I’ve moved your cheese. The commissary doesn’t work like it did. The pharmacy doesn’t work like it did. The chapel doesn’t work like it did. The fitness center doesn’t work like it did. The pillars we’ve come to rely on for our well-being have been fundamentally altered and this threat, COVID-19, doesn’t care.
A lot of those decisions came from me, and they weren't easy. I can’t say for sure there won’t be more changes. If so, it's because I have a handful of non-negotiable, no-fail responsibilities.
I have one request of all of you. Talk to each other, text with each other, email with each other, video chat with each other. Commanders, lead. Supervisors, stay in touch with your subordinates every day. Our newest Airmen need to be checking on their peers, especially with many on alternate schedules and teleworking. If you find an activity that helps you physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, share it with your network of people. I have moved your cheese; you will inspire and empower those around you when you find the new route through the maze.
I’ve had the honor to serve on behalf of our people around the world in the last 22 years. I have the honor of leading the Airmen of the 11th Wing today. Thank you for all you and your families give the Nation every day.
ANDREW M. PURATH, Col, USAF
11th Wing Commander