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Packing Resiliency: 124th FW Airmen Deploy Amidst COVID-19

Airmen push cargo onto the back of an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III. The cargo is lined up on a wet flightline ramp with several pieces of cargo waiting to be loaded by a handful of Airmen.

Idaho Air National Guard Airmen of the 124th Fighter Wing deploy from Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, on a C-17 Globemaster III to various locations throughout Southwest Asia, May 14, 2020. More than 400 Airmen and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs assigned to the 124th FW will continue to deploy throughout the spring and summer of 2020 in support of Operations Freedom's Sentinel and Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Ryan White)

Airmen and civilian airport workers unload baggage from the back of stake and platform truck onto a conveyor belt that is moving the luggage into the belly of an white aircraft. The Airmen are wearing Air Force uniforms and the civilian is wearing a gray hat, red t-shirt, a neon colored reflective vest, and black shorts.

Idaho Air National Guard Airmen of the 124th Fighter Wing load cargo before deploying from Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, to various locations throughout Southwest Asia, May 11, 2020. More than 400 Airmen and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs assigned to the 124th FW will continue to deploy throughout the spring and summer of 2020 in support of Operations Freedom's Sentinel and Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Ryan White)

The image is looking at the back of line of Air Force Airmen who are carrying personal items as they walk towards an aircraft staircase to load on a white airliner aircraft with the company name, Omni Air International, written in red letters on the side of the aircraft.

Idaho Air National Guard Airmen, pilots and A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft deployed to various locations throughout Southwest Asia on May 11, 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 400 members of the 124th Fighter Wing and the 190th Fighter Squadron, based at Gowen Field, will continue to deploy throughout the spring and summer in support of Operations Freedom's Sentinel and Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur)

An Airman wearing an Air Force uniform, a blue vest, sunglasses, and ear muff hearing protection, bundles up a cargo strap as he walks away from an A-10 Thunderbolt II engine that was just loaded onto the back of a C-17 Globemaster II. Two Airmen inspect the cargo in the background, one of the Airmen is wearing a yellow reflective vest.

Idaho Air National Guard Airmen of the 124th Fighter Wing deploy from Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, on a C-17 Globemaster III to various locations throughout Southwest Asia, May 14, 2020. More than 400 Airmen and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs assigned to the 124th FW will continue to deploy throughout the spring and summer of 2020 in support of Operations Freedom's Sentinel and Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Ryan White)

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.”