Although COVID-19 has drastically changed day-to-day operations around the world, the responsibilities of rescue Airmen have not changed, just evolved.
In order to stay mission ready, the 347th Rescue Group continued training while implementing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The health of our rescue professionals and their families is [of] the utmost importance to us,” said Lt. Col. Chad Kohout, 347th RQG deputy commander. “However, we also have to balance the risk of exposure with our mandate to be ready when our nation calls. That is why we have taken great care in our squadrons to execute our required flight and training operations while limiting the risk of exposure.
“We have established teams that operate on opposite schedules in the units, ensuring that their time in the building and aircraft do not overlap. We have also established procedures with our maintenance teams to clean and sanitize the aircraft following each flight. We have had great success in operating this way for nearly a month.”
The 347th RQG is responsible for training more than 500 members dedicated to personnel-recovery missions, however the unit put work limitations in effect to minimize Airmen’s physical contact.
“We limited the exposure in the squadron so people only come in to fly or to do mission essential tasks,” said Lt. Col. Jesse Enfield, 71st Rescue Squadron commander. “We divided the squadron up into three groups. We have three ways to train here. We have the simulator building across the street, which has been a lifesaver for us. We have the day flights and night flights. So, we split the squadron into thirds, that way [we’re only] risking potentially infecting one third of the squadron, not the entire squadron. We also came [up with] the mission-planning cell. Normally crew’s mission plan for their sorties the next day. We now have a mission-planning cell that comes into our mission-planning office that plans all the missions for the week and then hands the products to the crews.”
The 71st RQS is not the only squadron taking precautionary measures in order to keep Airmen mission ready, the 41st RQS is as well.
“We divided the squadron almost down the middle looking at both office duties, training requirements in the aircraft and then miscellaneous requirements we need from team to team,” said Capt. Justin Colby, 41st RQS B flight commander. “So we have a team A and a team B. Team A would be tasked to come in to fly Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then Team B would have it Thursday and Friday. Then the next week we would swap who has the three-day chunk and who has the two-day chunk.”
Though COVID-19 presents the challenge of social distancing, the 347th RQG units still manage to do their part in the mission.
“The rescue family is always flexible and ready to go, there’s always going to be some bottlenecks with trying to get something like this going that we’ve never had to do before,” said Colby. “But everyone has been very flexible, very supportive of trying to make it work and adapting to the way we’re running with it for the foreseeable
According to Enfield, the rescue mentality of being ready to complete the mission has helped Airmen through COVID-19.
“They’re excited to get back to work,” said Enfield. “They want to fly and they’ve thoroughly impressed me with their ingenuity and how they’ve gotten back into the airplane. I think the only thing we have is the next step, bringing people back [from deployment].”