Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing have had to be creative in finding ways to stay connected and keep the mission going since the country began self-isolating due to COVID-19.
Defense Department and Air Force senior leaders have encouraged unit commanders to limit the non-critical, face-to-face interactions between service members. Therefore, only Devil Raiders deemed to support an in-person essential mission have been commuting to their workcenters since March 13, while the rest have been teleworking from home, all in an effort to avoid unnecessary potential exposure to the virus.
“As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, this virus is very dangerous,” said Lt. Col. Christina Lee, 821st Contingency Response Squadron commander. “Our top priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our Airmen.”
Since COVID-19 began effecting operations, 621st CRW squadrons have worked to maintain connection among Airmen.
“It’s important to understand that there’s a big difference between physical and social distancing,” said Lee. “Just because we’re physically miles apart, doesn’t mean we have to feel that way. We’re encouraging our Airmen to embrace social media and our digital communication tools to provide that sense of connection.”
Squadrons have continued to hold “all calls,” but maintain the recommended physical distancing precautions by holding virtual town halls, check ins and social events via video conferencing platforms for their Airmen. Each unit has even tried to continue regular traditions throughout this teleworking norm. For example, Hell Hounds from the 821st CRS have been coming together on a regular basis with their “Virtual Howl,” where they can disseminate key information, or send shout outs for jobs well done. Members of the 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron, or commonly known as “Aguilas,” have also continued their long-standing tradition of holding their Wednesday “ringing of the bell,” where they recognize one outstanding performer for the week.
“This provides Aguilas the opportunity to resume some normalcy in this unfamiliar operating environment,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Webb, 571st MSAS commander. “I think this type of familiarity is needed for everyone’s psyche.”
The primary job of air advisors is to build relationships with partner nations and provide recommendations and job efficiencies, but COVID-19 has changed the way the unit is conducting business, said Webb.
“Despite our physical distance from each other, we have some very smart Airmen who are coming up with innovative ways to get the mission done,” Webb said.
Using technology to bridge the physical gap is something every 621st CRW unit has continued to embrace since beginning the teleworking norm. Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Squadron, known as “Guardians,” have harnessed several commercially available video tools to provide training for all its members. Even going as far as offering professional development seminars on critical thinking, emergency management preparedness and leadership fundamentals.
The 621st CRS commander, Lt. Col. Jessica Guarini, also sees another unexpected benefit of teleworking.
“It’s easy to get sucked into the ‘mission’ mindset,” said Guarini. “But I think it’s given us the opportunity to ‘step back’ and focus on what’s important: Airmen, their loved ones, their stressors, their strengths and ultimately, what drives them. In the end, Airmen are our greatest asset and without them our critical mission can’t get done.”
Currently, there is not a set timeframe for 621st CRW Airmen to go back to “normal” operations, but Devil Raiders are expected to remain ready.
“We haven’t really skipped a beat since this all started,” said Guarini. “We’re still ensuring our Airmen can perform at the highest level and do whatever is asked of them.”