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The basic COVID experience

Airman 1st Class Jina Smith, 81st Force Support Squadron customer support apprentice, poses for a photo inside the Sablich Center at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, May 19, 2020. Smith went through basic military training during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly L. Mueller)

Airman 1st Class Jina Smith, 81st Force Support Squadron customer support apprentice, poses for a photo inside the Sablich Center at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, May 19, 2020. Smith went through basic military training during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly L. Mueller)

Airman 1st Class Jina Smith, 81st Force Support Squadron customer support apprentice, instructs the proper method to fill out a form inside the Sablich Center at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, May 19, 2020. Smith went through basic military training during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly L. Mueller)

Airman 1st Class Jina Smith, 81st Force Support Squadron customer support apprentice, instructs the proper method to fill out a form inside the Sablich Center at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, May 19, 2020. Smith went through basic military training during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly L. Mueller)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- One week before COVID-19 precautions were established in response to the world-wide pandemic, a new flight of trainees arrived for basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, March 10, 2020.

“We had a normal week of basic training and then everything started to close down,” said Airman 1st Class Jina Smith, 81st Force Support Squadron customer support apprentice. “None of us really knew what was going on because we had no social media or television. It was just everything that the Military Training Instructors were telling us.”

Smith understood the seriousness of the pandemic through the instruction given by the MTIs, whether it was staying 6-feet apart and making masks from issued shirts or conserving toilet paper and paper towels.

“I was worried more about what was going on at home,” said Smith. “I constantly thought ‘Did people get that out of control? How many people were actually getting sick? Is someone sick next to me?’”

Smith’s flight had to transfer to a new squadron three times during her training from a member of the squadron getting COVID-19, once in the rain while they carried their belongings and bedding.

“Before even going to BMT, in my mind I had my mom tapping me out during graduation,” said Smith. “It was disheartening not being able to have that happen, especially after putting in so much work.”

After the private graduation ceremony, Smith boarded a plane to Keesler for technical training school.

“Getting off the plane definitely felt like a bunch of stress was lifted off my shoulders,” said Smith. “There were precautions here for COVID-19, but they weren’t as stressful, especially after being in a basic training environment.”

After Smith completed technical training, she began her career at Keesler.

“I'd go home in a heartbeat, but it's good to experience something new,” said Smith. “It might take longer or make you work a little harder, but being resilient though COVID-19 is important. Even though there's a lot of obstacles, I’m going to push through it and it'll be okay.”

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