JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --
During this dynamic and ever evolving time, Col. Thomas O. Pemberton, 514th Air Mobility Wing Commander, took Air Force Reserve Command Commander Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee’s intent to take care of Airmen and their families to heart–virtually.
Flexibility is the key to airpower and the Freedom Wing has been stretching to respond, first there was the travel restriction policy put out by the Defense Department, effective March 13, 2020, limiting travel, one week prior to the March Unit Training Assembly. Military members living more than 50 miles from Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, N.J., are not able to participate with a few exceptions. More than 60% of the Freedom Wing lives outside of the local commuting area. A quarter of our members are first responders in New York City, one of the hardest hit areas.
Then on March 16,, when guidance came from President Donald J. Trump to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people, Col. Pemberton decided on a virtual UTA for March and April. Pemberton’s guidance to commanders has been, “continue the mission.” It’s an opportunity to focus on computer based training, OPRs, EPRS, vouchers, awards and decorations, and other administrative functions that can be completed via telework. “Let’s use the next few months to clean up the administrative side of things so when we return for a super UTA, we are ready to roll,” Pemberton said.
Pemberton has been amazed at the innovative ways members use to continue the mission. Some of the units are using Zoom and Microsoft Teams with their virtual training classes. Chief Master Sgt. Dana L. Capaldi, 514th AMW Command Chief, encouraged members to keep thinking outside the box. She pointed out that colleges and universities are offering free online training. Yale University offers one of their most popular classes, “Psychology and the Good Life,” that teaches stressed-out students how to be happier. Members can provide a certificate upon completion and it may count as resiliency training.
Pemberton tried his best to ensure members received valuable training so they can be paid for the UTA. “I’m asking you to make sure that we are being wise with our taxpayer’s dollars, so that we can get some bang-for-the-buck for that training effort, he said.
Pemberton anticipates the TAP class listing to be zero by July. So far, 56 people completed an online TAP class over the March UTA.
Pemberton’s number one priority is taking care of Freedom Wing members and their families. Part of that is making sure they are staying at home and being safe. Most of the Freedom Wing is in a telework status so the risk of contracting COVID-19 can be mitigated as much as possible.
His number two priority is maintaining mission readiness. The mission continues and the Freedom Wing has qualified and trained individuals ready for our combatant commands.
Priority number three is supporting the federal government. “We want to make sure that we are putting our folks in a position to be ready. So that when that call comes for us–and I truly believe that call will come for some our units to supply skill sets that are needed–we are ready,” Pemberton said.
Pemberton does not want to cancel UTAs. He wants to keep them going, especially for some of our members who are being hit hard and may not have an income. He held a Facebook Live event on Sunday, which counted as credit for an hour of the UTA. It was like a virtual Commanders Call. He gathered his command chief, group commanders and a few subject matter experts who–while keeping their social distance–answered questions.
Staff Sgt. Kristen Warbrick, 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Aeromedical Evacuation Technician, watched the Facebook Live event on March 22 and was very impressed with the leadership taking initiative on this growing issue.
Capt. Lisa Anello, 514th AMW, Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, found the virtual UTA productive. I was happy to feel like I was at drill, but conveniently at home and safe with my family.
“There is no better work break then hugging my two children,” said Anello.
Pemberton stressed to members they have a 514th family that is ready and willing to help out in any way.
“Turn off the 24 hour news cycle, open a book, maybe watch a funny movie and spend time with your family,” said Pemberton. “Take time to breathe a little bit as we go forward because we’re going to make it through this. We’re going to be stronger. We’re going to be better and we’ll be healthier eventually.”