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Despite COVID-19 434th ARW deployments continue

Tech. Sgt. David Taylor, 434th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, fuels a KC-135R Stratotanker at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana March 20, 2020. The tanker along with three other tankers are preparing to deploy to Southwest Asia in support of Air Force Central Command combat operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Ben Mota)

Tech. Sgt. David Taylor, 434th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, fuels a KC-135R Stratotanker at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana March 20, 2020. The tanker along with three other tankers are preparing to deploy to Southwest Asia in support of Air Force Central Command combat operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Ben Mota)

Danny Bowlin, a Grissom contractor, holds a fuel shut-off switch while a KC-135R Stratotanker receives fuel at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana March 20, 2020. The tanker along with three other tankers are preparing to deploy to Southwest Asia in support of Air Force Central Command combat operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Ben Mota)

Danny Bowlin, a Grissom contractor, holds a fuel shut-off switch while a KC-135R Stratotanker receives fuel at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana March 20, 2020. The tanker along with three other tankers are preparing to deploy to Southwest Asia in support of Air Force Central Command combat operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Ben Mota)

GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind. --

While most are scaling back amid the uncertainties created from the Novel Coronavirus, the 434th Air Refueling Wing’s mission of providing air refueling and combat ready forces is still moving forward.

More than 80 Airmen and four KC-135 Stratotankers from the wing deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Air Force Central Command combat operations last week.

“Despite the effects of COVID-19, our mission continues and our deployments are still on schedule,” said Col. Larry Shaw, 434th ARW commander. “Grissom has a long history of doing things right and we plan on carrying that forward; people are relying on us.”

To ensure deployers depart when scheduled, daily operations continue as they have in the past, but with some extra precautions. One such operation is that of the 434th Maintenance Group who had the responsibility of ensuring Grissom’s tankers were ready to depart for the deployment.

“Our maintainers have prepared the tankers with required deployment configurations specific to their deployed location,” said Col. Gretchen Wiltse, 434th MXG commander. “That not only includes adding additional refueling requirements, but also ensuring aircraft are capable of transporting troops and cargo.”

Working where the rubber meets the asphalt, Master Sgt. Benjamen Bond, 434th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron expeditor, said it’s a priority to ensure tankers leaving Grissom are prepared not only to reach their destination, but to also make it through their deployments with minimal maintenance.

“If we see things that might become an issue while the tankers are deployed we fix them before they leave,” said Bond. “We don’t want to create problems for the maintainers down range; we want them to be able to focus on the mission.”

That teamwork mentality is a key aspect of resiliency in the Air Force Reserve and helps generate power and build trust necessary for team cohesion during challenging situations.

“This is a difficult time for everyone, but it’s also an opportunity for us to show that we can continue to conduct the mission despite the obstacles at hand,” explained Shaw. “Everything we do involves risk, but the 434th ARW has some of the best leaders in the Air Force assessing those risks to ensure the safety and wellness of our Airmen.”

One such risk assessment, was to keep deployers on base prior to their deployment to ensure they were not infected with COVID-19.

“Deployers were informed that they would not be able to go home again between training and their deployment so they needed to say good bye to their loved ones prior to reporting to Grissom,” said Wiltse. “We also had to implement restrictions to family members coming on base as the aircraft departed.”

“We understand that these extra precautions might be an inconvenience for some, but protecting the safety of our Airmen and completing the mission are our top priorities,” said Shaw. “We are a resilient force and that often requires the courage to change the way we do things to mitigate obstacles so we can continue to serve our nation at high standards.”

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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