2020: Year in Review

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kristen Pittman
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

They say hindsight is 2020, and while the Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 403rd Wing had much to be proud of this year, it’s safe to say there is relief 2020 will soon be behind them.

The Air Force Reserve unit had quite the year with exercises, deployments, evacuations, and more, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record.

“2020 has been a year that offered many challenges, but the men and women of the 403rd Wing met every one and accomplished our mission both here and abroad,” said Col. Jeffrey A. Van Dootingh, 403rd Wing commander. “Fortunately, we started the year with a major wing-wide readiness exercise. That experience proved invaluable shortly thereafter when we transitioned into an actual global pandemic and still met our number one priority to take care of Americans, Airmen, and their families.”


The wing kicked 2020 off with Operation Southern Comfort from Jan. 13-16. Taking place at the Mississippi National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center, Gulfport, and Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Southern Comfort tested the wing’s capabilities to perform their jobs in a simulated combat environment. Over 300 Airmen from various squadrons participated in the exercise.

Cope North 20:

In February, the 815th Airlift Squadron took part in Cope North 20 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Cope North is an annual trilateral field training exercise that takes place at Andersen as well as around the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau and Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia. The 815th provided airlift services to transport people, cargo and aeromedical evacuation teams alongside the Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) and Royal Australian Air Force. The “Flying Jennies” launched approximately 40 sorties during the exercise.

COVID operations:

The most significant story during 2020 was the worldwide outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. The disease meant finding new ways to conquer the mission. Remote and hybrid unit training assemblies as well as telework, when possible, to mitigate the spread were top priority. The wing kept the mission going amidst elevated health protection condition levels.

36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron COVID support:

Due to the severity of the pandemic, Airmen across the country were asked to support the fight against COVID. Several members of the 36th AES were deployed to various locations, including overseas, to assist in caring for COVID positive patients in the air while transferring them to hospitals that could accommodate them. A total of nine members of the 36th were deployed to Charleston, Dover, Travis and Ramstein Air Force Bases.

815th Airlift Squadron deployment:

Aircrews from the 815th Airlift Squadron as well as maintainers from the 803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and other personnel deployed to Ali Al Salem, Kuwait in September to support the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing. With them, they took four of the 815th’s C-130J “Flying Jennies” aircraft. While there, the members work to provide various airlift operations throughout the U.S. Central Command including supporting operations “Inherent Resolve” and “Freedom Sentinel.” This marks the 815th’s eighth deployment since 2004.

Hurricane season:

Not to be outdone by COVID, the Atlantic provided the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters” as well as the entire wing with plenty to overcome. The Atlantic season broke a number of records including most named storms in a season with 30 and most U.S. landfalls with 12. Such fodder for flight meant a lot of hours in the air for the aircrews of the 53rd as they logged the third most hours during a season with1,950.9 hours in 187 missions.

Tack all of that on to Keesler being in the cone of uncertainty for five different storms, two of them simultaneously, prompting four separate aircraft evacuations for the 53rd and 815th and the maintainers and loadmasters of the 403rd had plenty to do.

Winter Storms/Atmospheric Rivers:

When they weren’t flying tropical disturbances, the 53rd provided their weather reconnaissance services for atmospheric rivers on the West Coast and Winter Storms on the East coast. The squadron supported winter storm missions in March and December providing vital information to forecasters to help them better predict wind speed and precipitation measures.

The unit also deployed to Travis AFB, California, Portland, Oregon and U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii to fly atmospheric rivers in conjunction with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. The purpose of the “AR recon” is to help researchers and forecasters predict the amount of precipitation those on the West Coast can expect which helps for water management in the more arid parts of that region.

Leadership Changes:

803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron: Maj. Matthew Goldey

12th Operational Weather Flight: Maj. Kimberly Spusta

403rd Mission Support Group: Lt. Col. Reginald Trujillo

403rd Maintenance Group: Lt. Col. Steven Fortson

403rd Security Forces Squadron: Lt. Col. James A. Coleman

“Hopefully, next year will not be as ‘unprecedented’ as this year, but whatever 2021 brings the 403rd Wing will be ready,” said the wing commander.