ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The 97th Force Support Squadron, Education and Training Testing Center recently resumed the Weighted Airman Promotion System testing May 11, 2020, after having to put testing on hold due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts since March 23, 2020.
“Of all the tests that the Air Force administers, WAPS, is probably the most important,” said Jill Coles, the test control manager with the 97th FSS education center. “I felt like because this is such an important test for people, that we should do as much as possible to get everyone tested on time.”
The ability for Airmen to continue WAPS testing was due to the directed effort of Coles and the support of her leadership. After getting word from the Air Force Personnel Center that testing could resume on May 11, Coles went to work re-configuring the classroom and inputting other safety measures in order to allow testing to resume as soon as possible.
“Mrs. Coles was instrumental in getting us going,” said Chief Master Sgt. Eddie Castillo, the 97th FSS superintendent. “Following CDC guidelines, she put together a plan that allowed us to get back to testing while maintain required social distancing and providing a clean environment. Her primary goal was to be safe while bringing back some sort of normality.”
After re-configuring the classroom to adhere to proper social distancing, Coles could safely test 13 individuals, but with her in the room, it would increase the number to 14, which required approval from the 97th Air Mobility Wing Commander.
“My leadership went up the chain of command to Col. Leard and he approved a total of 14 in the classroom as long as we were socially distanced,” said Coles. “When the testers are at the desks, they can put their masks down, but any other time it is full on [Person Protective Equipment].”
Safety measures implemented for the classroom include: testers lining up six feet apart in the hallway outside of the classroom, entering the room one at a time, wearing a protective mask and using hand sanitizer upon entering the room. The classroom is then sanitized by Coles after each test.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Coles. “We have guidance on how we should behave… So it really just took us at the Education Center wanting to do this and changing a few little things. Before [COVID-19], Airmen would crowd into the room while I got them registered. Now, everyone waits six feet apart in the hallway, everyone uses hand sanitizer and wears masks.”
WAPS testing typically occurs May 1 through June 15 each year for Senior Airmen testing for Staff Sgt. and February 15 through March 15 for Staff Sergeants testing for Tech. Sgt. Airmen typically schedule their studying to fit into these testing cycles.
“COVID-19 has created times of uncertainties and stress,” said Castillo. “As weird as this may sound, being able to conduct WAPS testing is significant because we are taking away a stressor from our Airmen. As we all know, WAPS testing takes dedication and time to prepare. We study for months and to put things on hold or to move that target date adds even more stress to our Airmen.”
“It is like being surprised at Christmas time, no one is surprised at Christmas time because it comes the same time every year,” said Coles. “People have scheduled their lives around taking time to study and then taking the WAPS test.”
According to Coles, around three-quarters of testing centers in the Air Force are not open yet and some will not resume WAPS testing until the end of May, which makes the 97 AMW ahead of schedule for completing WAPS testing. Due to how rapidly COVID-19 information is changing, Coles wanted to get as many tests done as possible, in case harsher restrictions had to be implemented again.
“If everything goes as plan, we should be more than a month ahead of schedule,” said Coles. “We should be done testing both WAPS cycles on June 11 and the cycle was extended to July 31, so I feel pretty safe that even with harsher restrictions put in place we will finish on time.”
Although WAPS testing is one of the many base functions affected by COVID-19, the continuation of testing is one of the many steps that the 97th FSS is taking to return a sense of normalcy to base operations.
“We are extremely proud of team FSS,” said Castillo. “We are in the business of taking care of Airmen and families and COVID-19 has made that difficult on many levels. With that said, our team has been at the forefront of many COVID-19 related changes and bringing one more asset back on line, shows our team’s dedication.”