Whiteman Hosts Drive-in Air Force Ball During Pandemic

 In U.S. Air Force, COVID-19, Defense, Air, Forces & Capabilities

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic inspired the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., to pio­neer a new kind of USAF birth­day cel­e­bra­tion: a drive-in Air Force ball.

The idea to tran­si­tion the ball from an in-person party to a drive-in cel­e­bra­tion stemmed from unique chal­lenges pre­sent­ed by the ongo­ing coro­n­avirus crisis, said Master Sgt. Joshua Braswell, the 509th Security Forces Squadron Antiterrorism & Force Protection Planner who served on the event’s plan­ning com­mit­tee.

The flyer from Whiteman Air Force Base’s 2020 Air Force Ball. Graphic: 509th Bomb Wing/courtesy

After Braswell and Senior Master Sgt. Kelii Kanoa got the 509th Bomb Wing com­mand chief’s per­mis­sion to hold an Air Force birth­day cel­e­bra­tion despite the ongo­ing pan­dem­ic, they assem­bled a team who eval­u­at­ed poten­tial options for hold­ing an event in the old and new normal, respec­tive­ly, Braswell explained in a Sept. 24 response to ques­tions from Air Force Magazine. 

The com­mit­tee start­ed plan­ning a tra­di­tion­al ball in June, but once they real­ized they wouldn’t be return­ing “to the old normal,” the com­mit­tee decid­ed to pursue “a new type of event,” he said.

“While adapt­ing our plans, one of our com­mit­tee leads … intro­duced the idea of a ‘drive-in movie’ style event,” Braswell con­tin­ued. “This was to allow ser­vice mem­bers and their spous­es to pull up in their vehi­cles, watch an AF birth­day video on a big screen and still have a date night (like other AF Balls), which even­tu­al­ly turned into a family night out instead (to appro­pri­ate­ly accom­mo­date child­care).”

Master Sgt. Timothy Carlson, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant (left), Chief Master Sgt. Nadine Carlson, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron superintendent (right) and their son (center) sit together during the Air Force Ball at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., on Sept. 19, 2020. The Carlson family and many attendees set up chairs to watch the event while safely distancing from others in adherence to COVID-19 restrictions. Photo: Airman 1st Class Christina Carter

They also tweaked the dress code to fit the “family friend­ly” mood, he said, let­ting troops don their Uniform of the Day and asking civil­ians to wear busi­ness casual attire, and per­son­al­ized the event’s pro­gram­ming.

“We decid­ed on the theme ‘AF Gratitude,’ which allowed for some added per­son­al­iza­tion to the video,” he explained. “Instead of show­ing a ‘typ­i­cal’ AF video that incor­po­rat­ed the dif­fer­ent occu­pa­tion­al areas con­tribut­ing to the mis­sion, we decid­ed to include the Total Force … and allow them a way to com­ment and express their grat­i­tude for the AF and what it has pro­vid­ed them.”

Finally, the com­mit­tee decid­ed against charg­ing admis­sion to “alle­vi­ate any addi­tion­al stress in peo­ples’ lives” and to give the unortho­dox event the best pos­si­ble shot at suc­cess, he said. The wing also allowed people to RSVP via a QR code to make the process easier, wing spokesper­son Tech. Sgt. Alexander W. Reidel told Air Force Magazine in a Sept. 24 email.

But though the event was dif­fer­ent than Whiteman Air Force Balls of yore, the wing didn’t throw every aspect of tra­di­tion out the window. 

The base’s “Honor Guard still posted the colors and con­duct­ed the POW/MIA table cer­e­mo­ny” — albeit with spark­ing cider, Braswell noted. 

Whiteman Air Force Base Honor Guardsmen present the colors before the Air Force Ball at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., on Sept. 19, 2020. Attendees stood outside of their vehicles during the Honor Guard’s presentation, while maintaining plentiful social distancing to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Photo: Airman 1st Class Christina Carter

And 509th Bomb Wing Commander Col. Jeffrey Schreiner still deliv­ered a speech to atten­dees, just from atop an out­door plat­form, as shown in a photo shared by the wing.

Whiteman AFB celebrates the 73rd anniversary of the AF with drive-in ball
509th Bomb Wing Commander Col. Jeffery Schreiner speaks during the Air Force Ball at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., on Sept. 19, 2020. Schreiner addressed attendees and said he was grateful for Team Whiteman’s mission contributions during the year and the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Airman 1st Class Christina Carter

The inno­v­a­tive event was an all-of-base effort that gar­nered assis­tance from civil engi­neer­ing, secu­ri­ty forces, main­te­nance, oper­a­tions group, public affairs, protol, and Honor Guard Airmen, in addi­tion to vol­un­teers and a “cinema crew that pro­vid­ed the screen and FM trans­mit­ter,” Braswell said.

“From all of the feed­back we have had from other bases, we are the first base to exe­cute a drive-in style AF Ball and the team of [Senior Master Sgt.] Gwendolyn West, [Master Sgt.] Joshua Crosby, [Master Sgt.] Jeffrey Neahr, [Master Sgt.] Adrienne Sanders, [Master Sgt.] Charles Cooper, [Master Sgt.] Ryan Skuller, [Master Sgt.] Shawn Carroll, and [Master Sgt.] Sherrod Williams did an out­stand­ing job coming togeth­er to ensure this was a suc­cess,” he said.

Air Force Magazine source|articles

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