“America Strong” military flights over some of the United States’ hardest hit cities offered as “tribute” to beleaguered healthcare and essential workers have been met with outrage and ridicule by healthcare workers.
“Instead of spending $60,000 per flight hour on a showy attempt at solidarity, please spend that money housing homeless and incarcerated people in safe places where they can be socially distanced,” said Kate Dunn, a registered nurse in Baltimore. “For me, that is what actual support and solidarity would look like. And I would sleep better at night knowing my patients were at less risk.”
The Blue Angel and Thunderbird planes cost at least $18 million dollars each, and the Washington Post estimates $60,000 in fuel is burned to fly a squadron for one hour. “We’re excited to fly over cities across America as our way of saying thanks to the healthcare workers, first responders, and all the people who selflessly run into the breach working to keep America strong,” Air Force Gen. Dave Goldfein, and Navy Adm. Michael Gilday said via press release.
As of May 1, Johns Hopkins reported over one million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, including 63,019 deaths, though totals are likely higher. At least 26 million people—or one in seven workers—have filed for unemployment. An estimated 12.7 million Americans have lost employer-based health insurance.
“I think every person in this country, with minimal effort, could think of at least one way that money would have been better spent.” said Baltimore Certified Nurse-Midwife Kristen Janiszewski.
The “America Strong” flights have already happened in cities such New York and San Diego, and fly over Baltimore as well as Washington DC and Atlanta on Saturday, May 2. In Baltimore, many frustrated residents observed the flight paths for the planes travel primarily in the county and the predominantly white and wealthy midtown and downtown areas of the city (known as “the White L”) and bypasses Black neighborhoods in east and west Baltimore—dubbed “the Black Butterfly” by professor Lawrence Brown—exemplifying the city’s deep racial segregation, and disparities in health and economic outcomes that come with it.
COVID-19 has amplified existing racial inequities, with African-Americans disproportionately impacted by the disease and as a result of the disease, economically. On the same day that Blue Angels and Thunderbirds fly over Baltimore’s predominantly white areas, the billionaire-funded, surveillance plane—the subject of years of scandal and a recent ACLU lawsuit—introduced to help solve homicides will be flying over east and west Baltimore, as its flight patterns over the past few days indicate.
Meanwhile, nurses across the country are protesting dire shortages of masks and other basic Personal Protective Equipment(PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic that has pushed the nation’s profit-driven healthcare system to the breaking point.
“I would rather have that money spent on PPE [than ‘America Strong’] so I don’t have to wear the same surgical mask for multiple shifts,” a Baltimore-area nurse who spoke on the condition of anonymity said. “At my institution people are wearing surgical masks in patient care areas for as long as two weeks straight.”
The inherent militarism of these fly over is also of concern.
“The last thing I want to see—and I know plenty of healthcare workers who feel the same way—is a symbol of death and destruction in the midst of such a deadly pandemic,” said former U.S. Army Ranger and author Rory Fanning.
The Defense Department says the flights fulfill training requirements for the pilots, and come at “no additional cost to taxpayers”. The Pentagon’s 2019 budget totaled $738 billion dollars, which is more than the total allocated for every domestic program combined.
“The Trump administration should be spending every second and cent figuring out how to supply immediate support to those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” Fanning said.
In contrast to these fly overs, on May 2-3, progressive activist Jordan Uhl is organizing a virtual fundraiser for Baltimore-based Healthcare for the Homeless, a nonprofit that provides housing, support and healthcare services to people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s a grim irony that, in the richest country in the world, the government is focusing on hollow displays of patriotism and militaristic theatrics instead of actually helping people who are suffering,” Uhl said. “Baltimore is a city that has been directly criticized by this administration—calling it a ‘rodent infested mess’—but his solution to helping it during a time of need is flying planes overhead.”