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Lui Selinski, a member of the Allied Trades machine shop at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, inspects a plastic sheet barrier installed inside a bus belonging to the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, May 12, 2020.
Lui Selinski, a member of the Allied Trades machine shop at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, inspects a plastic sheet barrier installed inside a bus belonging to the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, May 12, 2020. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)
Lui Selinski, a member of the Allied Trades machine shop at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, inspects a plastic sheet barrier installed inside a bus belonging to the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, May 12, 2020.
Lui Selinski, a member of the Allied Trades machine shop at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, inspects a plastic sheet barrier installed inside a bus belonging to the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, May 12, 2020. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)
Senior Airman Andrea Bonkowski, a vehicle operator with the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, rolls up plastic sheeting that serves as a protective barrier in one of the squadron???s buses at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 12, 2020. The squadron is working to equip its fleet of about 20 vans and buses with safety features aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus.
Senior Airman Andrea Bonkowski, a vehicle operator with the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, rolls up plastic sheeting that serves as a protective barrier in one of the squadron???s buses at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 12, 2020. The squadron is working to equip its fleet of about 20 vans and buses with safety features aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)
Front row seats inside a government bus at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 12, 2020, are blocked off to put some distance between passengers and the driver. The 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron has adjusted the way it transports passengers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Front row seats inside a government bus at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 12, 2020, are blocked off to put some distance between passengers and the driver. The 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron has adjusted the way it transports passengers due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)
Senior Airman Andrea Bonkowski, a vehicle operator with the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, looks over cloth bus seats with disposable plastic coverings, May 12, 2020. The squadron is using the coverings to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading among passengers.
Senior Airman Andrea Bonkowski, a vehicle operator with the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, looks over cloth bus seats with disposable plastic coverings, May 12, 2020. The squadron is using the coverings to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading among passengers. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)
The 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron maintains a fleet of buses and vans to transport personnel on and off base. The squadron is disinfecting its vehicles and has installed protective barriers inside to reduce potential exposure of passengers to the coronavirus.
The 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron maintains a fleet of buses and vans to transport personnel on and off base. The squadron is disinfecting its vehicles and has installed protective barriers inside to reduce potential exposure of passengers to the coronavirus. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)
A plastic sheet is nailed to a piece of wood to create a clear barrier between passengers and the driver inside a government bus at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
A plastic sheet is nailed to a piece of wood to create a clear barrier between passengers and the driver inside a government bus at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)
A sign posted on the door of a bus at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, asks passengers to stand back while the driver exits before they embark. The measure is intended to reduce contact between passengers and the driver during the coronavirus pandemic.
A sign posted on the door of a bus at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, asks passengers to stand back while the driver exits before they embark. The measure is intended to reduce contact between passengers and the driver during the coronavirus pandemic. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Air Force buses are still in regular service shuttling air crews and other personnel around the base, but the ride is very different these days.

The 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron is turning its vans and buses into what has been dubbed the “COVID Armada.”

“It started off as a kind of a joke,” said Master Sgt. Cullen Numsen, the squadron’s ground transportation flight superintendent. “Someone called it that, and now, it’s like OK, that’s what it is.”

The squadron transports on average about 70 to 100 passengers daily using about 20 vehicles, and it needed a way to protect people from potential coronavirus exposure.

The solution turned out to be protective barriers, seat coverings, social distancing, face masks and lots of disinfecting.

“We’ve always cleaned vehicles,” Numsen said, but not “to this level.”

The first two rows of seats are blocked off and a soft, clear plastic sheet barrier is fixed to the ceiling behind the driver.

The sheeting costs about 500 euros, or about $540, for 60 square meters. “It’s simple yet really effective,” Numsen said.

When passengers use buses with only one door, the driver waits outside to reduce contact.

After the passengers leave, the vinyl seats on the squadron’s Blue Bird buses are disinfected. The handrails, steering wheel and other areas are also wiped down, Numsen said.

The cloth seats on the squadron’s Iveco buses — the same buses the Germans use off base — initially presented a disinfecting conundrum, until the airmen found a plastic disposable seat cover that did the job.

“It almost looks like a garbage bag except it’s molded to fit on the seat,” Numsen said.

Bus drivers and passengers wear face masks; only one passenger is allowed per each two-seater and they sit on opposite sides of every row. Buses that once carried up to 44 people now transport at most about 20, Numsen said.

So far, the precautions seem to be working. Two drivers with cold-like symptoms tested negative for COVID-19.

“I think we have a great team,” Numsen said. “We try to stay ready and we can roll with whatever needs come about.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com Twitter: @stripesktown

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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