CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, NM – By now, it’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most unprecedented events in modern times. The shockingly devastating and tragic effects of the virus have touched every corner of the planet grounding governments, economies, and the daily lives of people everywhere to a harrowing halt.
However, ask anyone in the 27th Special Operations Maintenance Group about how the pandemic has affected the flying mission here, and they will describe a much different clip than most of the world is moving at today.
“The tempo of operations here hasn’t really slowed down at all,” said Tech. Sgt. Garry King, expediter for the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 727th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “There have been some adjustments, but it’s still business as usual in terms of how much we fly.”
To ensure the mission can continue, the Air Commando maintainers here have stepped up to the challenge of keeping Cannon’s aircraft ready to take to the sky despite the threat COVID-19 poses
While it is not easy to continue flying in the midst of a pandemic, the importance of keeping the base mission operational is absolutely necessary.
“You just can’t shut the mission down,” said Master Sgt. Jesse French, head of the crew chief section for 16 AMU, 27 SOAMXS. “There are aircraft here that need to be on alert status, and there are training missions that need to happen as well.”
It hasn’t been without sacrifice on their part however. Squadrons across the 27 SOMXG have made significant changes to how it’s maintainers accomplish their tasks, such as adjustments to the hours they work and the manpower available at any given time. They have also altered the way they handle shift changes.
“We get almost everyone on the first shift out of the door half an hour before the other shift shows up,” said Staff Sgt. Lindsey McCormick, a crew chief with 16 AMU, 27 SOAMXS. “That way if somebody on one shift tests positive and we have to quarantine everyone they worked with, it won’t force the other shift into quarantine as well and push our manning to the breaking point.”
Another big difference from the pre-pandemic standard has been the experience levels of maintainers working on aircraft after it comes back from travelling.
“For crew chiefs to travel somewhere on aircraft as part of the aircrew, they have to have certain experience levels,” said French. “When that aircraft comes back from it’s destination, the crew chief has to go into two week of self-monitoring, and that puts more pressure on the younger, more inexperienced guys.”
These precautions are on top of the mandated use of face masks, physical distancing, deep cleaning, and other universal safety measures the 27 SOMXG has adopted, which all combine to make day-to-day taskings more challenging in what can already be a stressful environment under normal circumstances.
But much like the workload they normally handle, these difficult times have not affected the mindset of Cannon’s maintenance professionals.
“Honestly, I don’t handle these days any differently than I do any other day,” said Staff Sgt. Devin Truesdell, an aerospace propulsion specialist with 16 AMU, 27 SOAMXS. “When I’m working, I just handle my business and don’t let the thought of (COVID-19) sit in my head.”
When it is all said and done, the COVID-19 pandemic is sure to be remembered as a terrible tragedy, but among the silver linings that arise from it will be the lessons learned and experience gained by the Air Commando maintainers.
“Being that this (pandemic) is unprecedented, the fact that we’re still getting aircraft off the ground shows that we will always find a way, a safe way, to get the mission done,” said King. “And in the future when we face problems, we’ll remember these times and know that we built the experience and resolve to overcome anything.