Ready, Resilient and Virtual: How Reserve wing in New Jersey is carrying on in spite of pandemic

Col. Thomas Pemberton, 514th Air Mobility Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Dana Capaldi, 514th AMW command chief, conduct a Facebook Live event during the wing's March virtual unit training assembly.

Col. Thomas Pemberton, 514th Air Mobility Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Dana Capaldi, 514th AMW command chief, conduct a Facebook Live event during the wing's March virtual unit training assembly.


Flexibility is the key to air power, and the 514th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, has certainly been flexing to continue to provide air power during this dynamic and ever-evolving time.

On March 13, one week before the wing’s March unit training assembly, the Department of Defense issued guidance limiting travel, meaning members living more than 50 miles from the base would not be able to physically travel to the UTA. More than 60% of the Freedom Wing lives outside of the local commuting area. A quarter of the wing’s members are first responders in New York City, one of the areas hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then, on March 16, President Trump issued guidance for people to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people. At that time, Col. Thomas Pemberton, 514th AMW commander, decided on a virtual UTA for March and April.

Pemberton’s guidance to commanders has been to “continue the mission.” He believes back-to-back virtual UTAs provide an opportunity for the wing to focus on computer-based training, performance reports, vouchers, awards and decorations, and other administrative functions that can be completed via telework.

“Let’s use the next few months to clean up the administrative side of things so when we return for a super UTA, we are ready to roll,” Pemberton said.

Pemberton said he has been amazed at the innovative ways members continue to carry out the mission.

Units are using Zoom and Microsoft Teams to conduct virtual training classes. Chief Master Sgt. Dana Capaldi, 514th AMW command chief, encouraged members to keep thinking outside the box. She pointed out that colleges and universities are offering free online training. Yale University offers one of its most popular classes, “Psychology and the Good Life,” that teaches stressed-out students to be happier. 514th members can provide a certificate upon completion and it counts as resiliency training.

Pemberton said his number one priority is taking care of Freedom Wing members and their families. A big part of that is making sure they are staying home and being safe. Most of the wing is in a telework status to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

His number two priority is maintaining mission readiness. The mission continues and the Freedom Wing has qualified and trained individuals for use by combatant commands.

Priority number three is supporting the federal government. “We want to make sure we are putting our folks in a position to be ready,” Pemberton said. “So when that call comes for us – and I truly believe that call will come for some of our units to supply skill sets that are needed – we are ready.”

The commander said he does not want to cancel UTAs, especially since members may not be able to work at their civilian job and may not have an income at this time.

He held a Facebook Live virtual commander’s call event on Sunday of the March UTA. He gathered his command chief, group commanders and a few subject matter experts who, while keeping their social distance, answered questions.

Staff Sgt. Kristen Warbrick, an aeromedical evacuation technician with the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, watched the event and said she was very impressed with the way leadership was taking the initiative during these difficult times.

Capt. Lisa Anello, 514th AMW assistant judge advocate, found the virtual UTA productive. “I was happy to feel like I was at drill, but conveniently at home and safe with my family. There is no better work break than hugging my two children,” she said.

Pemberton stressed to members that they have a 514th family that is ready and willing to help out in any way.

“Turn off the 24-hour news cycle, open a book, maybe watch a funny movie and spend time with your family,” he said. “Take time to breathe a little bit as we go forward because we’re going to make it through this. We’re going to be stronger. We’re going to be better and we’ll be healthier eventually.” #ReserveReady #ReserveResilient

(Lalley is the public affairs officer at the 514th AMW.)

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