HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – When Chief Master Sgt. Craig Fowler returned from a six-month deployment to the Middle East last week, his homecoming looked a bit different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The superintendent for the 419th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron arrived on base to the open arms of his wife, son and daughter, in the early morning hours of May 7, but he wasn’t able to hug them and won’t be able to sleep in his own bed for two weeks.
Fowler has opted to self-quarantine in base lodging because his daughter has a medical condition that makes her high-risk for contracting the virus.
He and a handful of other deployers with similar circumstances will wait out the virus’ 14-day incubation period to ensure they aren’t taking the illness home. Most of the other recently returned Airmen are able to self-quarantine in their own homes with healthy family members.
Fowler, who has served in the Air Force for 34 years, both on active duty and as a reservist, says he’s deployed so often that he can’t remember exactly how many times he’s been away, but will always remember this deployment.
“All of us over there were worried about our families with all the uncertainty around this virus,” he said. “But we are really lucky these days to have the technology that made it easy to keep in touch.”
Fowler regularly talked to his family over the phone and Skype and was even able to help make arrangements for his son to return home from Spain, where he was studying when the virus erupted there.
“Coming back and seeing my family after all of this and not being able to hug them was so awkward and difficult,” he said. “Being socially distant like this with your own family just isn’t normal, but we were obviously willing to do this as it’s just not worth the risk to our daughter.”
While Fowler will have to wait a couple of weeks to go home, he did get a little taste of home in the form of comfort food delivered as part of a gift basket left in his room by Senior Master Sgt. Tamara Wass, the AMXS first sergeant.
Fowler’s wife had delivered his favorite homemade treat, an oatmeal cake that he’s been eating during birthdays and special occasions his entire life.
“It’s my mom’s recipe and it was really nice to have that little bit of comfort from home here in the room for me,” Fowler said.
The goody basket also contained some sweets, snacks, water, and disinfectant cleaning supplies.
“We wanted our quarantined personnel to have a few essentials right away to help make their stay a bit easier,” Wass said.
Those in quarantine on base will be required to stay isolated in their rooms, so unit members are on call to deliver food and help with other essentials.
“Each squadron will assign people to look out for their needs,” Wass said. “It’s going to be a team effort and we plan to take good care of them.”