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Pacific Warriors connect despite physical distancing

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Amber Kurka
  • 624th Regional Support Group

Recognizing limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific Warriors here and in Guam utilized innovative solutions to increase social connections while keeping Airmen and families safe during their April unit training assembly.

For the 624th Regional Support Group, restrictions and shelter-in-place orders didn’t mean training cancellations, but instead provided leaders the opportunity to conduct the first-ever virtual UTA in both locations.

Instead of physically reporting to workplaces, Airmen throughout the Group participated in virtual meetings, computer-based training, daily check-ins, and other training from their own homes.

“Our top priority is keeping our Airmen and their families safe,” said Col. Athanasia Shinas, the 624th RSG commander. “While we need to be physically distant, we don’t want to be socially distant. Now more than ever we need to stay socially connected as a team and as a family.”

For many Reserve Citizen Airmen, the Air Force Reserve is not only about the mission, but it is also about camaraderie and taking care of each other during times of crisis.

“When we first realized there was a potential that we would not be doing April UTA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot of concern for our Airmen and the personal struggles they were facing,” said Maj. J. DeMeo, the 624th Aeromedical Staging Squadron staff dentist, and key member of the virtual UTA development team for the ASTS. “Being able to connect with people is a really important way to help them manage stress, and to make sure they have the support they need to help their families at this time.”

For Lt. Col. Lisa Huntoon, the 624th Medical Operations Flight commander, the ability to connect with her flight was extremely meaningful.

“As a flight commander, having the ability to see my Airmen and ask them how they’re doing, and to listen to their personal stories almost had me in tears,” said Huntoon. “One of my Airmen had to cancel her wedding and listening to her story was heartbreaking. I could see that my flight members needed this connection, but what was even more amazing was the level of resiliency they have displayed as we continued to connect as a team.”

Leaders were able to connect with their Airmen through using technology. Through the development of training plans geared towards a digital environment, teams were able to continue mission essential operations and tasks.

“We have more than 98 percent of the Airmen in the squadron teleworking,” said Maj. Kenneth Ruggles, the 48th Aerial Port Squadron commander. “We have a deployment coming up, so we’re focusing on skill level and Total Force training, ensuring Airmen are ready to do their jobs downrange.”

Not only were squadrons able to accomplish critical training requirements, but the virtual UTA provided an opportunity to complete medical readiness requirements to fulfill short-notice deployments.

“We received a tasking for one of our members to deploy for the COVID-19 response,” said DeMeo. “Through the use of digital technology, we were able to give that member a required same-day medical exam enabling them to leave that evening for their deployment.”

For medical professionals, the use of technology to connect with patients allowed them to adapt and provide care despite the current challenges of physical distancing and sheltering-in-place.

“Having people literally separated by thousands of miles is a serious challenge for maintaining medical readiness,” said Lt. Col. David Trowbridge, the 624th Aerospace Medicine Flight commander. “Thankfully through the use of virtual applications we’ve been able to reach out to members to get an update on their medical status and their readiness in order to get them out the door to respond to a short-notice tasking to help with this pandemic.”

According to Group leadership, they're focused on continued training for their mission of providing throughput of cargo, passengers, patients and runway repair. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the 624th RSG will continue to adapt to the challenges, not only protecting Airmen and families, but the communities they serve.

“Preserving our force is important,” said Shinas. “We need to be both physically and mentally ready to respond in order to help our communities, our country, and execute our wartime mission. We do that by making our Airmen and their families our top priority. We are a resilient group of military professionals and we will overcome whatever challenges we face together as a family.”