Air Force Col. Richard Dickens, commander of the Hurlburt Field-based 505th Command and Control Wing, has shared his experience in dealing with COVID-19 on the installation’s Facebook page.

This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

HURLBURT FIELD — When Air Force Col. Richard Dickens, commander of the 505th Command and Control Wing, talks with the airmen under his command about COVID-19, he’s speaking from experience.


►RELATED: CORONAVIRUS: Destin couple surviving with the virus ... one day at a time


And now, through social media, he’s sharing that experience more widely than just the 505th CCW.


At the request of the 1st Special Operations Wing, the host unit at Hurlburt Field, Dickens has shared his story on the installation’s Facebook page. His two-part presentation — each part is less than four minutes in length — is available at https://bit.ly/34WVklz and https://bit.ly/2Vtl0TT.



Dickens said he was more than happy to share his experience with COVID-19 to give airmen and others an up-close look at the illness.


“I had heard third-hand stories (about COVID-19), but I hadn’t heard a lot of firsthand stories,” Dickens said in a Tuesday interview. Still, he cautioned that even his firsthand accounts to airmen and others who see the Facebook interviews aren’t necessarily definitive accounts of how the illness presents itself and progresses.


►RELATED: CORONAVIRUS FRONTLINE: Fort Walton Beach ICU nurse touts teamwork in pandemic


“This is my story,” he said. “It’s not necessarily everybody else’s story.”


Dickens believes he contracted the disease during a recent duty-related trip to England. Although he wasn’t exhibiting symptoms at the time, immediately upon his return, Dickens went into quarantine at home based on the fact that he had traveled internationally. Soon after, he was dealing with fatigue, a dry cough, difficulty in breathing and then, a low-grade fever.


Once he got the fever, Dickens contacted medical personnel at Hurlburt Field, and was the first person to use the installation’s drive-through testing service. He was tested via a nasal wash, which he describes in one of the videos as “a little bit awkward, but not painful at all.”



The day after the nasal wash, Dickens learned that he was also the first Hurlburt Field airman to contract COVID-19.


Dickens, who had been dealing with the flu just two weeks prior to finding himself dealing with COVID-19, can attest to the fact that the two illnesses are vastly different.


“I was fairly certain I had the virus,” Dickens said.


With his case of COVID-19, Dickens said, “it felt like it took more effort to breathe.” His case was also marked initially by extreme fatigue, he said, which manifested itself as he was working in his garage.


“If you have a bout of fatigue, that may be your first sign” of having contracted COVID-19, Dickens suggested.


Luckily, Dickens’ illness was abated by nothing more than regular use of Tylenol to combat the fever, aches and pains associated with COVID-19. That experience tracks with data suggesting that 75% to 80% of COVID-19 cases are categorized as mild illness.


Dickens said his experience with COVID-19 lasted about 10 days.


“After about day eight or nine, you start to wonder, ’Am I ever going to get back to normal again?’” Dickens said in one of the video presentations.


And there was a significant collateral effect of Dickens’ experience with COVID-19. His wife went into quarantine with him, he said, and wound up with a cough and shortness of breath that the couple believes was a mild bout with the illness.


One of the things that his visibility on the issue of COVID-19 allows him to do, Dickens said, is to urge airmen and others to take a measured approach to dealing with their concerns about the illness, and with the illness itself, should they contract it.


“It give me an opportunity to say, ’Be unemotional about it’,“ Dickens said.


“Take a breath, do your research, talk to somebody,” Dickens advises in one of the Facebook videos.


In addition to its Hurlburt headquarters, the 505th CCW has personnel at more than a dozen other locations, some of which comprise just a few airmen, while others comprise hundreds of airmen.



“I’m actually doing great,” Dickens said Tuesday, noting that he is teleworking from home, along with occasional visits to the office, in compliance with ongoing guidance about halting the spread of the new coronavirus.


In one of his videos, Dickens takes time to remind airmen and others about the basics of dealing with COVID-19, including maintaining social distance and practicing good hygiene.


“The reality is we have to get some of the mission done ... even in time of crisis,” said Dickens.


(function() {'use strict';window.addEventListener('message', function(event) {if (typeof event.data['datawrapper-height'] !== 'undefined') {for (var chartId in event.data['datawrapper-height']) {var iframe = document.getElementById('datawrapper-chart-' + chartId) || document.querySelector("iframe[src*='" + chartId + "']");if (!iframe) {continue;}iframe.style.height = event.data['datawrapper-height'][chartId] + 'px';}}});})();