2021: 403rd Wing year in review

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

Like last year, many people are still wondering when COVID-19 will go away; however, there was a bit of light in the 2021 tunnel of pandemic uncertainty. Rather than doing everything from home, many people returned to work, students went back to school, and people saw more of each other’s faces as restrictions and mandates were lifted for masks and events.

Even as 2021 seemed like an extension of 2020, with many people pondering “what can possibly happen next” the Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 403rd Wing overcame these ordeals to accomplish the mission, whether that was supporting deployments, participating in training, or providing life-saving weather data for National Hurricane Center forecasts.

“It’s been another unprecedented year, but the men and women of the 403rd Wing never fail to impress in their dedication to getting the job done,” said Col. Stuart M. Rubio, 403rd Wing commander. “I appreciate our wing members and their families, and everything they have done in service to our nation.”

Here is a recap of some of those feats.

COVID-19: Flexibility was key when it came to accomplishing Reserve requirements, tasks, and Unit Training Assemblies. The January and February UTAs were limited to mission essential personnel with other members accomplishing tasks virtually from their homes. And, as COVID numbers decreased by the spring, the March UTA was upgraded to mission essential plus to bring in Airmen who had medical, readiness or administrative items that were due. By April the wing was bringing Airmen in for the monthly UTAs following COVID protocols such as wearing masks, maintaining distance and sanitizing hands as well as reminding personnel not to report if they were ill. The Delta variant spiked after the July 4 holiday, and in September, the Department of Defense mandated that all service members must get the COVID-19 vaccination. Since the mandate, members of the 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron have worked tirelessly to procure and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure a ready force, resulting in 91% of the wing’s members being fully vaccinated.

DEPLOYMENTS: To combat COVID, the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron once again deployed personnel in January to several locations to include Travis Air Force Base, California, and Ramstein Air Base, Germany for the first half of the year. While deployed, the reservists, which included flight nurses and medical technicians, assisted with safely transferring and caring for Covid-19 patients as they were moved from remote location or hospitals that could not accommodate their medical needs to locations where they could receive treatment.

While AES was fighting the pandemic, wing Airmen were finishing up their deployment in Southwest Asia and returned in February. Aircrew and aircraft from the 815th Airlift Squadron “Flying Jennies” and maintenance and support personnel from throughout the wing, were assigned to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait. The 386th serves U.S. Central Command, which consists of a 20-nation area of responsibility in Southwest Asia. The 815th provided airlift and airdrop functions in a combat setting as well as aeromedical evacuation support throughout the command and in support of Operations Freedom Sentinel and Inherent Resolve.

EXERCISES AND TRAINING: When not deployed, the 815th AS was preparing for the next rotation. In May, the ‘Flying Jennies’ took part in the exercise Voyager Shield at the U.S. Army Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, La., providing airlift support and checking off some items on their own training checklists.

In July, the Flying Jennies went north to train some more, but this time with the U.S. Army at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Alaska. They provided airlift for more than 1,300 paratroopers and airdrops for heavy equipment.

In September, the 815th and other 403rd Wing members, to include members from the 403rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, worked alongside active and Air National Guard members during the 22nd Air Force exercise Rally in the Rockies at locations in Wyoming and Colorado. The exercise was designed to develop Airmen for combat operations by challenging them with realistic scenarios that support a full spectrum of operations during military actions, operations or hostile environments.

The following month, the 815th took part in Castle Forge, a U.S. led operation in the Black Sea region. Its purpose was to test the partnerships and interoperability that make Agile Combat Employment possible.

In June about 60 reservists with the 403rd Logistics Readiness Squadron went to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for their annual tour training May 29-June 12. From issuing gear to fueling aircraft to providing transportation and everything in between, the logistics readiness career-field is responsible for a wide array of services conducive to readiness for just about any mission. At Nellis, the 403rd LRS assisted the 99th LRS with their daily operations and with an exercise to provide Airmen with training and gain experience.

And in August, the 403rd Wing sent about 35 Reserve Citizen Airmen to participate in the Air Force Reserve Command’s premiere training exercise Patriot Warrior 2021 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Wing members from the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, 403rd LRS, 815th AS, 803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 403rd Wing Public Affairs joined up with about 260 Reserve Citizen Airmen and 4,000 U.S. Army Soldiers from various U.S. installations to train with joint partners in airlift, aeromedical evacuation and mobility support.

In addition to providing airlift, airdrop and honing war-fighting skills, the wing’s 403rd ASTS sent four reservists to participate in the Innovative Readiness Training Program Delta Wellness 2021 in July. The total force mission designed to increase deployment readiness spanned the ‘delta’ region of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana to provide healthcare services such as dental, medical, optometry, mental health, physical therapy and other services at no cost to those community members.

WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE: Although they are most commonly referred to as the Hurricane Hunters, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron does much more than fly into tropical systems. They kicked the year off gathering weather data for winter storms on the Eastern Seaboard. The unit worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Centers for Environmental Protection and by Feb. 1 they flew four systems. The winter storm season lasts from Nov. 1 to March 31, and the unit is tasked by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction to fly at high altitude over areas of the Atlantic Ocean where there is no data available. That data is sent to NCEP for input into their forecasts. In addition to gathering weather data off the Eastern Seaboard, the squadron also operated out of Reno, Nevada from January through March, conducting 46 flights in support of atmospheric river reconnaissance.  Atmospheric rivers are a system of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere that carry about 25 times the water at the mouth of the Mississippi River, but as water vapor, and provide 30 to 50 percent of the annual precipitation for the West Coast. Much like winter storm missions, atmospheric river missions are also flown at higher altitude, around 25,000-30,000 feet to collect weather data that is sent to NCEP that shares that information with forecasters to integrate the atmospheric data into models and this information is also used by researchers.

While this hurricane season was nothing like the record setter of 2020, it was still an above average one. For the Atlantic basin, eight named storms made landfall in the United States with two making landfall as hurricanes, one of which was a major hurricane in category 4 Hurricane Ida. The 53rd WRS flew their first storm of the season June 1, which was Tropical Storm Claudette that threatened Louisiana and surrounding areas. The Hurricane Hunters went on to fly Danny, Elsa, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Larry, Nicholas, Odette, Peter and Sam in the Atlantic and Nora, Pamela and Rick in the Eastern Pacific. They flew over 800 hours and 85 missions, nowhere near last year’s 1,900 hours.

9/11—20 YEARS LATER: The Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing commemorated the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and hosted a Memorial Ruck March. More than 100 Reserve Citizen Airmen and active duty members from the 81st Training Wing took part in the five-mile trek around Keesler’s flightline to pay tribute to and honor the memories of the 2,977 civilians, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and military personnel who lost their lives in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

UNIFORM CHANGES AND PT: There were several uniform changes. Some that stand out were maintainers can wear shorts on the flightline and women can wear braids and pony tails that hang down their backs not to extend past shoulder blades. As for the physical fitness assessment … to test or not to test was the biggest question due to health concerns. Testing resumed in July, was postponed in September, but by December reservists were back to testing with just push-ups, sit-ups and 1.5 mile run and new five-year age group scoring groups as opposed to the previous 10.

LEADERSHIP CHANGES: The 403rd Wing saw several changes in leadership. In June, Col. Stuart M. Rubio took command of the 403rd Wing from Col. Jeffrey A. VanDootingh who took command of the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio. Then in August, the wing welcomed Chief Master Sgt. Barbara Gilmore, the new command chief.

In addition to this, the following units welcomed new commanders.

In June, Capt. Cortney Tremer took command of the 403rd Communications Flight in June. In July, Lt. Col. LaDonna K. Schreffler took command of the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Maj. Keith J. Johnson Jr. took command of the 403rd Maintenance Squadron, Lt. Col. Christopher Harris took command of the 403rd Operations Support Squadron, and Lt. Col. Costau “Cos” Bastien assumed command for the 403rd Force Support Squadron. And, in November, Lt. Col Kevin J. Campanile assumed command of the 403rd Operations Group.

Also, in October, the wing inducted a new group of honorary commanders.

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

“The New Year will bring new challenges and opportunities, but as always, we will be ready to take them on,” said Rubio. “Enjoy the holiday season, take time to recharge and get ready for 2022.”