The Mission Goes On: Command gets creative to keep operating while supporting COVID-19 efforts

Social distancing wasn’t a problem for A10 Warthogs from the 122nd Fighter Wing, Fort Wayne, Indiana., and a KC-135R Stratotanker from Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana., March 17, 2020 as the units paired up for a refueling mission in the skies over Northcentral Indiana. Despite the Novel Coronavirus pandemic both units continue to work to meet Air Force mission requirements. (U.S. Air Force photo Capt. Steven Bretscher)

Social distancing wasn’t a problem for A-10 Warthogs from the Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a KC-135R Stratotanker from the Air Force Reserve's 434th Air Refueling Wing, Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana, March 17, as the units paired up for a refueling mission. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, both units continue to work to meet Air Force mission requirements. (Capt. Steven Bretscher)

RED HORSE sets up mobile medical screening tent

Members of the 560th Red Horse Squadron set up a mobile medical screening station at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, to screen aircrew members before and after flying C-17 missions. (Lt. Col. Wayne Capps)

Still flying:  Joint Base Charleston implements mobile medical screenings to keep missions flying

Lt. Col. Natalie Riley, a physican assistant with the Reserve's 315th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, briefs members of the 437th and 315th Airlift Wings about the new screening process. (Lt. Col. Wayne Capps)

Tech. Sgt. Larry Banks, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron loadmaster, prepares to drop a simulated buoy from a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft March 19, 2020, off the Gulf Coast of Mexico. The Hurricane Hunters train all year to maintain readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry Banks)

Left, Tech. Sgt. Larry Banks, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron loadmaster, prepares to drop a simulated buoy from a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft March 19, off the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hurricane Hunters continue to train to maintain readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry Banks)

943rd maintenance Airmen continue amid COVID-19

The pandemic doesn't keep Staff Sgt. Wes, an HH-60G helicopter crew chief, from performing his aircraft maintenance work at the 943rd Rescue Group, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, March 19. (U.S. Air Force photo by MSgt. Greg, 943rd Maintenance Squadron)


(Editor’s note: As America continues to deal with COVID-19, we urge you to keep track of the most up-to-date information on the pandemic and how it is affecting Reserve Citizen Airmen and their family members on our web site, www.afrc.af.mil, and our various official social media platforms. Our bi-monthly magazine, Citizen Airman, is not designed to provide news as it happens. The magazine is better suited to provide a broader, feature-based view of our outstanding Reserve Citizen Airmen and how they fit into the Reserve’s mission. The situation surrounding COVID-19 is changing very rapidly and we realize that some of what you read over the next few pages may be “old news” by the time it reaches your mailbox. However, we believe it’s important to highlight how the mission of the Air Force Reserve continues in spite of this global pandemic and showcase the innovative ways Reservists and Reserve units thrive in these difficult times.)

It’s been anything but business as usual for the Air Force Reserve over the past few months—since the world first heard the word “COVID-19.” Health Protection Conditions at Reserve locations across the country have elevated, travel limited, unit training assemblies disrupted and people isolated as the country and the world deal with the spread of the Novel coronavirus.

In spite of these challenges, the Reserve continues to execute its mission of providing combat ready forces to fly, fight and win by applying innovative and creative solutions while continuing to support COVID-19 efforts in the communities where they live and serve.

The Air Force Reserve was early to the fight against the virus when a chartered aircraft carrying approximately 200 U.S. citizen evacuees from Wuhan, China, arrived at March Air Reserve Base, California, on January 29. They stayed on base throughout a voluntary observation period to ensure they did not have the virus and spread it upon arrival in the United States.

With less than a 24-hour notice, Team March sprung into action, along with several federal, state, county and local agencies, to prepare a well-deserved welcome to the weary U.S. diplomats and their families.

“One of the diplomats told me that he understands the work that Team March and the other agencies did to put this all together with such short notice, and is thankful for everything being done to welcome them and make them feel comfortable,” said Oliver Freeman, Airman and Family Readiness, 452nd Air Mobility Wing Force Support Squadron. “He said he was especially happy there were toys, coloring books, puzzles and games handed out to the children so their parents could focus on getting through the screening process and checking into their rooms,” Freeman said. “It felt good to be part of that teamwork.”

“At the Centers for Disease Control, we’re here to support our state, local and sister federal agencies. We’ve been working together seamlessly, (and) very hard these last few days,” said Dr. Chris Braden, deputy director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and CDC spokesperson. “The county and the Air Force Reserve have done a suburb job in standing up really rapidly to receive our fellow citizens that we care so much about.”

Across the country, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, began receiving passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship early in March. More than 100 cruisers who were possibly exposed to the novel coronavirus onboard spent their 14-day quarantine at the Marietta base. More were quarantined at the Clay National Guard Center located on Dobbins.

Dobbins has a long history of welcoming patients from medical emergencies around the world. Designated as the intake center for biological missions tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, it served as a landing strip for planes carrying patients affected by the Ebola outbreak who were being moved to Emory University Hospital. In 2005, Dobbins also served as a landing spot for many evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

As Reserve bases on opposite ends of the country assisted with quarantine efforts, Reserve units across the country proved that the mission will go on.

At Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, for example, maintainers assigned to the 943rd Rescue Group were hard at work March 19 ensuring the group’s helicopters were ready for any rescue mission.

“The safety of our personnel is our main priority, so to reduce the chance of exposure we’re combining the use of telework and minimal manning to accomplish the mission,” said Lt. Col. Anthony, 943rd Maintenance Squadron commander.

On this day, the maintainers were continuing the 600-hour phase inspection for the HH-60G Pave Hawk with tail number 227. During the inspection, maintainers go through every nook and cranny of the aircraft looking for damage, rust or corrosion.

During the entire process, maintainers remove more than 620 parts from the aircraft in order to access the 1,136 items that must be checked. Once the parts are removed, any discrepancies found must be fixed to meet aviation safety standards. The average phase inspection lasts 100 days, after which the aircraft is reassembled.

“Our folks are motivated and we’re ready for anything, including the potential for rescue missions,” Anthony said.

At Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, also on March 19, Reservists from the 403rd Wing’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron continued to get ready for the upcoming hurricane season by conducting training flights over the Gulf of Mexico.

As the only operational unit in the world flying weather reconnaissance on a routine basis, the Hurricane Hunters did not let the virus keep them from preparing for their mission of providing surveillance of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the central Pacific Ocean.

The Atlantic hurricane season typically runs from June 1 through November 30.

At Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, Reservists from the 315th Airlift Wing and their active-duty counterparts from the 437th AW kept their C-17 Globemaster III’s flying by implementing a medical screening process for aircrew members.

Aircrews now receive prevention education before each mission and a COVID-19 medical screening upon return.

“We set up a mobile screening tent near our flying squadrons,” said Lt. Col. Natalie Riley, physician assistant with the 315th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. “When our crewmembers arrive for their pre-mission briefing, we spend time educating them in order to minimize the spread of the virus, and to focus on preparedness and prevention, based on CDC guidelines.”

Each aircrew is also provided with a disinfectant and protective equipment kit. The kits include sanitizer, masks, gloves, thermometers, alcohol wipes and more.

The post-mission screening process is designed to identify potential symptoms of the COVID-19 virus before crew members are reintegrated with the base and community.

“This is not just about taking care of our aircrew members,” said Col. Adam Willis, 315th AW commander. “While most of the world is shut down, we still have a mission to do and we rely heavily on our aircrew members to carry out that mission.”

The screening process is managed by the 315th Aerospace Medicine Squadron and is outside of the normal medical screenings received by Air Force aircrew members.

“We saw a need and our Reservists stepped up to make this happen for both wings,” Willis said.

These are just a few examples of how Reserve Citizen Airmen are supporting COVID-19 operations in their local communities and how they are continuing to accomplish the mission during turbulent times. For the latest on the virus, please continue to monitor www.afrc.af.mil, your local unit’s web page and official AFRC social media sites. #ReserveReady #ReserveResilient

(Some last names withheld for security reasons.)