RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- When the tasking came to support the United States’ whole-of-government response to COVID-19 and what would become the first operational deployment of the Transport Isolation System, the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing answered the call.
While the pandemic has presented new and considerable challenges to navigate, being prepared to support any Air Mobility Command or U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa requirement that comes their way is business as usual for Mobility Airmen who execute the wing’s strategic airlift mission day in and day out.
Who they are
Headquartered at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, the 521st AMOW and its associated units showcase the Total Force concept, with Airmen from across active duty, Air National Guard and Reserve components coming together to answer any call at a moment’s notice.
The wing and its Airmen, who are forward deployed on behalf of Air Mobility Command, are spread across nine countries and 17 locations, spanning more than 5,135 miles, making it possible to employ the right effect at the right place at the right time.
Approximately 2,100 Total Force Airmen represent the full complement of Air Force specialties within the wing, including aerial port operations, enroute maintenance crew chiefs, Ravens, intel, cyber, command and control, aeromedical evacuation and many other AFSCs – all focused on executing the wing’s varied mission sets.
“Simply put, these Airmen are the heartbeat of global mobility operations,” said Col. Bradley Spears, 521st AMOW commander.
What they do
The wing’s primary mission is support to strategic airlift. From transporting cargo to global patient movement to humanitarian efforts to airlift supporting the warfighter, Airmen assigned to the wing are postured to rapidly respond and support a broad range of missions transiting through Ramstein Air Base on any given day.
How they do it
For the teams of Airmen prepared for any mission they may be tasked to support, flexibility is key to mission accomplishment.
According to Maj. Chris Dubois, director of operations for the AMOW’s 313th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron, Airmen are accustomed to adjusting on the fly and innovating to meet the demands of any tasking. In addition, the wing continually has crews, maintenance teams and aircraft on alert status. Equipment is also prepositioned for expedient access.
“This level of readiness allows us to respond and launch aircraft within a matter of minutes when the call comes in,” Dubois explained.
Contributions to first operational TIS mission and COVID-19 response
Despite uncertainty and unforeseen challenges resulting from COVID-19, the one constant for 521st AMOW Airmen is their ability to adapt and improvise no matter the tasking that comes their way.
In terms of execution, that ability hasn’t changed as Airmen have shifted their focus to support the COVID-19 response.
“Missions flying through Ramstein and other locations where we operate continually present a variety of requirements and challenges that require crews to innovate and adjust in order to guarantee mission success,” Dubois noted. “While the virus is new to us all, the way we approach the dynamic nature of this strategic airlift mission is the norm for us.”
What has evolved as a result of the ongoing pandemic and the growing need for safe and reliable patient movement are the tactics, techniques and procedures Airmen have put in place and further developed since the outbreak began.
Aimed at protecting crews and preventing the spread of the virus, Airmen within the wing have worked to develop improved processes and regulations for decontaminating aircraft after transporting patients who have tested positive, as well as procedures for medical teams providing critical care.
Airmen have also identified and implemented a number of other precautionary measures to help mitigate the spread following missions to high-risk areas, including aircrew isolation procedures like setting aside lodging for aircrew use that is separate from usual transient lodging areas.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, these Airmen are already incorporating lessons learned and helping AMC refine the patient movement plan to ensure they keep patients, aircrews and everyone else safe during the next mission responding to those in need.
In supporting the plan, 521st AMOW Airmen working behind the scenes played a significant role in the first operational deployment of the Transport Isolation System on April 10, 2020.
During the first TIS mission, Mobility Airmen serving the COVID-19 response efforts led flightline operations and had a significant impact on its success – from the maintainers who launched and recovered the C-17 Globemaster III, to the team that conducted the first aircraft decontamination in a non-training environment.
Throughout late March and early April, the team also led AMC’s initiative to establish aircrew isolation procedures that have now become standard across the enterprise.
According to Dubois, the team’s contributions to the mission and their ability to ensure the TIS served as a viable capability for the United States’ humanitarian response to COVID-19 has been an immense source of pride and morale for Airmen throughout the wing.
“There is a strong sense of pride throughout the unit related to this mission,” Dubois said. “Anytime we have the opportunity to support humanitarian operations like this, it’s really meaningful. I’ve been in the Air Force for 13 years, and this is definitely in the top two or three memorable experiences for me.”
Spears echoed Dubois, applauding the Total Force team behind the wing’s COVID-19 response efforts.
“Alongside aircrew and medical experts who executed the historic mission, it was the Airmen of the 521st AMOW who took TIS employment and AMC’s Patient Movement Plan from concept to reality,” said Spears. “I couldn’t be prouder of what they have accomplished on behalf of our nation, and I am honored to serve alongside them.”
For more information about the 521st Air Mobility Operations wing, visit https://www.ramstein.af.mil/About/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/303606/521st-air-mobility-operations-wing/.