2019: Year in Review

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

This year was just as busy as the last, with 403rd Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen participating in numerous deployments, hurricane support and training exercises.

“From multiple deployments to humanitarian aid to community service, the 403rd Wing’s list of accomplishments is truly astonishing,” said Col. Jeffrey A. Van Dootingh, 403rd Wing commander. “I, along with all American citizens, appreciate everything that our unit members and their families have done and continue to do.”

In addition to increasing readiness and safely accomplishing tasked missions, this year also marked some historical anniversaries. June celebrated the wing’s 70th year of operation as well as the 75th year of hurricane hunting for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.

Here is a recap of some of the top stories of 2019.

More deployments
In 2018, the wing deployed 300 Reserve Citizen Airmen and several C-130J Super Hercules aircraft to Southwest Asia in support of Operations Freedom’s Sentinel and Inherent Resolve. That support continued through 2019, with the wing deploying another 100 Airmen from units such as the Aerial Port, Force Support, Security Forces and Logistics Readiness Squadrons and 5th and 12 Operational Weather Flights to Southwest Asia and other locations.

Unit members who did not deploy continued to focus on training and readiness throughout the year.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
The 815th Airlift Squadron along with other wing members participated in three exercises: Swift Response and Silver Arrow in the European area of responsibility, and Arctic Anvil out of the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center. The 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron and 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron also took part in a Medical Readiness Training Exercise in Honduras.

Swift Response
In June, 72 members and three C-130J aircraft from the 403rd Wing took part in the exercise Swift Response 19, which is one of the premier military crisis response training events featuring high readiness airborne forces. Activities include intermediate staging base operations, multiple airborne operations, and several air assault operations.

The exercise included approximately 5,600 participants from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States and took place at locations in Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania, with additional staging bases in Germany, Italy, Slovenia and the U.K. The 815th flew 78 hours and more than 68 sorties airdropping 1,965 paratroopers and 311 short tons of cargo.

Silver Arrow
The wing also supported the exercise Silver Arrow based out of Ramstein, Germany throughout the summer. The wing deployed 51 reservists and two C-130Js to augment U.S. combatant command requirements, support readiness events under the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff exercise program and enable other unique mission and training requirements. The 815th flew 147.4 hours and more than 28 sorties airlifting 177 passengers and 83.4 tons of cargo. Additionally, members airdropped 301 paratroopers and 18 heavy equipment and container delivery system loads.

Arctic Anvil
Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 815th Airlift Squadron here along with the 327th AS out of Little Rock, Ark., provided airlift and airdrop support for the U.S. Army’s Joint Forces Exercise Arctic Anvil Oct. 1-6.

Arctic Anvil is a joint, multi-national, force-on-force culminating training exercise at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Mississippi, throughout October.

The units airdropped 400 paratroopers and equipment Oct. 2 and then delivered another 20 bundles of supply Oct. 6. More than 3,000 ‘Arctic Soldiers’ of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, participated in the exercise.

Twenty-one Air Force Reserve medics took part in the 403rd MEDRETE 2019 Honduras Dec. 4-18. Airmen from the 403rd ASTS and 36th AES here as well as reservists from around the country, worked with a team of doctors from the Joint Task Force-Bravo Surgeon’s Cell out of Soto Cano Air Base, to provide free medical care to the citizens of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

The 28-member Air Force Reserve medical care team consisted of family medicine, emergency medicine, dental services, hospital administrators, clinical nurses, air evacuation nurses and medical technicians. During the two-week annual tour, the team worked out of Hospital Escuela and provided care to more than 790 patients, according to Lt. Col Sabrina Hawkins, 403rd ASTS deputy commander.

Hurricane Support
The 2019 hurricane season kept the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron busy, especially in September. The season wrapped up Nov. 30, with the Hurricane Hunters flying more than 684 hours and 80 missions into nine storms over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The first major hurricane and most devastating of the season was Hurricane Dorian. At its peak, Dorian was a Category 5 hurricane that devastated the Bahamas. It then weakened to a Category 1 by the time it made landfall in North Carolina. The Hurricane Hunters conducted reconnaissance into the storm around the clock from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6 and flew 25 missions from three different locations--Curacao, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, and Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. The data they provided to the National Hurricane Center was vital to forecasts, ensuring public safety.

In the wake of Dorian, the 815th AS answered the call, assisting with humanitarian support transporting a Contingency Response Group to establish a mobile tower to restore air traffic control capability to the Bahamas. They also brought supplies such as water and food. The squadron’s aircrew staged out of Homestead and made two trips to the Bahamas.

Atmospheric rivers, research support
In addition to the primary mission supporting the National Hurricane Center, the Hurricane Hunters partnered with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NOAA in February and March for another project. They performed weather reconnaissance flights on atmospheric rivers over the Pacific Ocean to refine precipitation forecast models for the West Coast.

Leadership changes
The wing also had several leadership changes due to personnel moves and retirements.

Col. Jeffrey A. Van Dootingh assumed command of the 403rd Wing June 9. Van Dootingh, a navigator with more than 7,500 flight hours, previously served in the wing as the 403rd Operations Group commander from February 2012 to June 2013 before serving as the director of staff at 22nd Air Force, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.

Col. Deborah S. Deja assumed command of the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Jan. 13.

Lt. Col. Stuart M. Rubio assumed command of the 403rd Operations Group Dec. 7. Rubio previously served as the 403rd Operations Group deputy commander and 815th AS commander.

Lt. Col. Matthew Sikkink assumed command of the 815th Airlift Squadron June 6. Sikkink, a C-130 pilot with more than 2,400 flight hours, came to Keesler from the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokato Air Base, Japan.

Lt. Col Dwayne A. Russell took command of the 53rd WRS April 6.

Lt. Col. Jeff L. Frye took command of the 41st APS Nov. 2.

These were just a few of the accomplishments of 403rd Wing members.

“From training to readiness exercises to tasked missions, the men and women of this wing have proven you are willing and able to get the job done,” the commander said recently to the wing members. “Your commitment to our Nation is evident in all you do. I hope the holiday season will be a joyous one and a time to recharge for the New Year’s challenges. So, get ready for 2020 for more flying, fighting and winning!”