Packing Resiliency: 124th FW Airmen Deploy Amidst COVID-19
By Airman 1st Class Taylor Walker, 124th Fighter Wing
/ Published June 01, 2020
BOISE, Idaho --
More than 400 members of the 124th Fighter Wing here deployed May 11 to various locations in support of Operations FREEDOM’S SENTINEL, INHERENT RESOLVE and NEW NORMAL.
The deployment is the wing’s second largest movement and includes multiple aircraft, pilots, security forces, maintenance and medical personnel, special warfare tactical air control party Airmen and various other support staff. Although the size of this deployment is historical, it is particularly unique due to its crossover with COVID-19.
“The pandemic had a severe impact on how we normally do things,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Hupp, 124th FW installation deployment office logistics and plans superintendent. “Stop orders put in place to prevent the spread of the virus disrupted our schedules, so we had a lot of last-minute adjustments. Unit deployment managers and commanders had to remain flexible and understand that our direction could change in a matter of minutes.”
The top priority of the IDO is ensuring Airmen are ready for departure and qualified upon their arrival in country, regardless of the hurdles that come their way. To help alleviate the majority of last-minute scrambles, Airmen begin processing through medical and personnel functions, as well as completing chemical warfare and combat arms training nearly a year prior to their deployment date. However, maintaining a mental state of readiness can be difficult when deployment dates are postponed and members are under quarantine.
“They reach the apex of being prepared to go and then we have to tell them to wait,” Hupp said. “It’s tricky when they’re stuck at home and worried about their families. The units have to work extra hard to keep their Airmen motivated and ready to move in this ever-changing environment.”
Although they experienced delays due to global circumstances, the majority of Airmen in the deployment package have now left Idaho, followed closely by 254 short tons of cargo.
“My team is tasked with getting all the home station cargo to the deployed locations at the same time our people arrive,” said Chief Master Sgt. Leroy Armbruster, chief enlisted manager in the 124th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “There are a lot of steps in that process and we’ve faced challenges as plans change.”
Transportation of cargo, including personal goods and mission-essential equipment, is no small feat, especially for a deployment of this magnitude. Members of the 124th LRS must divide and stage cargo according to the capacity of each aircraft involved in transport. In this case, that includes four commercial Boeing 747s and three C-5 Galaxies.
“We start by checking the cargo to make sure it’s airworthy,” said Armbruster. “It has to be clean so that we don’t bring dirt into another country. We open bins to make sure they’re packed securely, and items aren’t damaged in flight. We look for hazards, including leaks, and we weigh the cargo. We’ve appreciated the help from other units.”
Although training, inspecting, palletizing, processing, scheduling and rescheduling are daunting tasks, Hupp and Armbruster agree that this deployment has already proven to be a success, as Airmen have shown resiliency and high morale under unpredictable circumstances.
“We’ve been training for this for years, we just didn’t know that it would come all at once where we’re called to a scheduled deployment and then faced with overcoming a pandemic,” said Col. Shannon Smith, commander of the 124th FW. “I’m incredibly proud of this organization, and I’m proud of this state.”