Wing of Choice: Year in Review

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  • By 403rd Wing Public Affairs
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Training, exercises, weather taskings, deployments and supporting combatant commanders around the globe kept 403rd Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen busy in 2023.  

“In my few months as your commander, 403rd Warfighters aggressively met short notice taskings and deployments while overcoming fiscal uncertainties,” said Col. John F. Benson, 403rd Wing commander. “Regardless of the challenge, you adapted and persevered to accomplish the mission. Whether it’s tactical airlift, weather reconnaissance, aeromedical, medical, maintenance or mission support, you’ve clearly demonstrated why we continue to be the Wing of Choice. We continuously lead 22nd Air Force and showed Air Force Reserve Command that we are Ready Now.” 

These are a few of the milestones that demonstrated the wing’s commitment to mission readiness, modernization, community partnerships, and Airmen. 

Ready Now: Deployments, Exercises, Training 

Wing units work year-round to ensure reservists are trained and combat ready. The wing deployed more than 100 reservists worldwide in support of five operations in support of Air Force taskings. An additional 60 personnel supported exercises around the globe to include Swift Response in Europe, 22nd Air Force Exercise Rally in the Pacific, and the Innovative Readiness Training's Healthy Tennesseans. All this was in addition to home station readiness training. 

 The 815th Airlift Squadron flew 873 sorties and 1,939 hours for training and in support of several exercises. About 60 squadron aircrew members and supporting personnel departed Keesler Air Force Base May 5 to travel to Europe for Swift Response 2023. Swift Response, part of U.S. European Command’s Defender 23 exercise, consisted of more than 7,000 U.S. and 17,000 service members from 20 allied and partner nations and was designed to bolster readiness and interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO Allies. The aircraft, crew and supporting personnel were staged primarily at Aviano Air Base, Italy, with a small package of crews and maintainers kicking off the Flying Jennies’ operations at Zaragoza Air Base, Spain, May 8-10. 

“Being a reserve squadron with a lot of young new pilots, taking advantage of opportunities to fly and work in missions of this scale is imperative,” said Capt. Will Garey, 815th AS deputy mission commander. “Getting them this experience in a joint integrated missions’ environment in different places outside of the U.S. is important for their deployment readiness.” 

In addition to tactical airlift training, 12 Airmen from the 403rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Security Forces Squadron, Force Support Squadron and Wing Staff Agencies participated in the 22nd Air Force Rally in the Pacific exercise Sept. 9-23. The exercise was held in the Indo-Pacific region, primarily Guam, Palau and the Philippines, with the main operating location out of Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii. During the exercise, Airmen enhanced interoperability with allies and partner nations, showcased the ability to project the Reserve Mobility Air Force into the region, rapidly generated airpower across dispersed locations simultaneously, and maintained a high-operations tempo. 

 The wing also contributed to the community. Four 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron Airmen took part in the Innovative Readiness Training's Healthy Tennesseans event in Tennessee. They provided medical logistics, training, dental services and more during the no-cost clinic that ran from June 3-12. According to their website, IRT is a collaborative program designed to produce mission ready forces, civil-military partnerships, and stronger communities. 

Reserve Citizen Airmen train during the Unit Training Assemblies and for their annual tour, and in some cases invite Airmen from other units to enhance their skill sets. Instructors from the 622nd Training Squadron at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, provided supplies and vital home-station readiness training for the 403rd Force Support Squadron’s personnel and sustainment services flights during the Oct. 14-15 Unit Training Assembly here. That same UTA, the 41st Aerial Port Squadron held their annual “Port Dawg” challenge, an event designed to enhance training and readiness.  

Ready Now: Year-Round Weather Reconnaissance 

The 2023 Atlantic and Eastern Pacific hurricane season concluded Nov. 30, marking the end of another above-average hurricane season for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. They flew 93 missions totaling 990.5 flight hours and deployed 928 dropsondes to collect data critical to hurricane forecasting. Of the 20 named storms in the Atlantic, they flew 10 of those systems as well as six of the 17 named storms in the Pacific. 

Although they are referred to as the Hurricane Hunters, the 53rd WRS started and ended the year flying Atmospheric Rivers missions as a part of the unit’s role in the National Winter Season Operations Plan. The Air Force Reserve began flying these missions in 2016, 2018 and 2019 as part of a research-based project, with flights added each year, until it became integrated into the NWSOP in 2020.

 The winter storm season for the 53rd WRS begins Nov. 1 and ends March 31, with dedicated AR mission support along the Pacific Ocean Basin starting in January until March. Atmospheric rivers are rivers of moisture or water vapor that carry 25 times the water equivalent of the Mississippi River and when they make landfall they can cause heavy snow, rain and flooding. The 53rd WRS fly these missions in support of the National Centers for Environmental Protection. 

When not flying weather missions, the 53rd WRS supported the National Hurricane Center in outreach events such as the Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour and Hurricane Awareness Tour. The CHAT and HAT are designed to prepare communities for hurricane season in Mexico, the Caribbean, and U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

 Also, in July, a WC-130J Super Hercules joined aircraft from around the world for the Royal International Air Tattoo July 14-16 at Royal Air Force Fairford in Gloucestershire, England. The aircraft was on display with 253 aircraft from more than 20 nations at the world’s largest military air show attended by approximately 200,000 spectators. 

Transforming for the Future 

To enhance training and save money, 53rd WRS weather officers received a new static training station July 19. The trainer is a replica of the weather pallet from the WC-130J Super Hercules, which include the window the weather officer looks out of to view the storm and waves on the surface of the water and includes the control panel located in front of the weather officer’s seat. 

“The goal of using the static trainer for the basic and storm students is to assist with training, and we are working to build this into our curriculum,” said Lt. Col. Kaitlyn McLaughlin, 53rd WRS ARWO. “Its use is projected to save approximately 30 percent of training flight time, and there is the ability to have more interactions between the instructor and student versus during an actual storm mission where time is a factor and feedback can be limited.” 

There were also technology enhancements for parachute training. The 403rd Operations Support Squadron received the upgraded BA-30 parachute Parasim simulator in August. This simulator allows instructors to set up scenarios on the computer and then the trainee flies the canopy while viewing the experience through virtual reality goggles. 

“The first time a C-130J Super Hercules aircrew member may have to jump out of an aircraft and use a parachute could be during a real-world crisis, so it’s imperative that they learn emergency hanging harness parachute training,” said Perry. “It’s the best thing they can do without jumping out of the plane.”  

Taking Care of Airmen, Families 

Ready and empowered Airmen are the foundation of a unit’s success. To ensure new wing enlisted reservists were armed with information to succeed in their careers, the 403rd established its first Enlisted Reserve Orientation Course in June. Seven Airmen graduated from the EROC Dec. 3.  

“There is no ‘How to be a Reservist” course,” said Chief Master Sgt. David Jackson, 403rd Wing command chief. “Airmen join the unit, attend newcomers where they turn on the firehose and throw a bunch of stuff at them about the wing and being a reservist, and then they are sent to their work centers. The EROC goes more in depth on programs and benefits to assist Airmen new to the Air Force Reserve.” 

To promote awareness and understanding of how people with different backgrounds can work harmoniously together, the 403rd Wing welcomed the Air Force Reserve Command’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, G. Lee Floyd in May 5-7. He led the Air Force-mandated Cross-Cultural and Diversity and Inclusion Awareness Training for the wing and attended a Senior Leadership Staff Ride with wing leaders to the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, May 4. The facilities were opened by the Equal Justice Initiative to create spaces, markers, and memorials to address the legacy of slavery, lynching and racial segregation. 

It wasn’t all work and no play though. The wing hosted several recognition and morale events throughout the year to promote a culture and atmosphere of connectedness between Airmen, family and friends. Some of these events included an Annual Awards Banquet, Family Day, and Holiday Social.  

The wing hosted an Annual Awards Banquet at the Bay Breeze Event Center March 4 to celebrate and recognize the outstanding Reserve Citizen Airmen nominees and winners for 2022. Wing level annual award winners moved on to compete at the 22nd Air Force level, where Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Knight, senior enlisted leader of the 403rd Communication Flight, succeeded in earning 2022 Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year honors for the 22nd AF. 

Hundreds of Wing of Choice members and their families gathered at Keesler Air Force Base's Marina Park June 3 for the Wing’s annual Family Day. The event featured a wide range of food and fun; from chief master sergeants manning the grills, a miniature C-130 available for children to tour, to music and games for Airmen and their families to enjoy.  

And in December the wing hosted a holiday social for Airmen where they could take time to celebrate the holiday with their coworkers and friends. 

Leadership Changes 

The year brought several leadership changes to include 403rd Wing Commander Col. John F. Benson, 403rd Wing Command Chief, Chief Master Sgt. David Jackson, 403rd Operations Group Commander Col. Elissa D. Granderson, 403rd Mission Support Group Commander Lt. Col. Lisa L. Breal, 403rd SFS Commander Lt. Col. Bruce J. Lawler, 403rd Force Support Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Norberto Roldan, 803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Commander Maj. Kurt Mann and Chief of  the 403rd Wing Recruiting Flight Master Sgt. Christoper Resio

The wing commander thanked Airmen for their role in an amazing 2023.  

“Your efforts have contributed to the 403rd making a difference at home and across the globe,” said Benson. “We know this impact did not come without sacrifice by you and your families.  You each give the most valuable resources you have to our mission:  your time and your energy. The New Year will present its own set of challenges and opportunities, so take time this holiday season to rest and recharge so we are prepared and ready.”