LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- The 61st Airlift Squadron, along with service members from other 19th Airlift Wing units, recently completed the first iteration of a new 4/12 deployment initiative.
Developed in 2019 between airlift squadrons from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas and Little Rock AFB, the initiative allows each squadron a full year of dwell time followed by a four-month rotation to their respective area of responsibility.
Under the 4/12 construct, the 61st AS will have the opportunity to leverage relationships and trust built between members within the squadron over the past 12-months on their deployment.
“Unit cohesion is vital when deployed to combat environments,” said Maj. Gregory Caylor, 61st AS director of operations. “Rather than deployments in the past, where squadrons were fragmented from multiple deployments that did not overlap, we finally had the ability to build unit cohesion. We spun up as a unit, deployed as a unit, and will return as a unit. Just as important, our families that remain at home will progress through life changes in parallel, which lends to a positive support structure.”
Service members from the 19th Operations Group, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron, and 19th Operations Support Squadron also deployed with the 61st AS after training alongside the airlift squadron for the past year.
“The opportunity to deploy with members of other units from the 19th Airlift Wing gives us a tactical advantage during this deployment,” Lt Col Donald Hudson, 19th Aircraft Maintenance commander, said. “We have been training hand-in-hand with these units. The fact we get to deploy with Airmen who we have already been working with allows for the communication and teamwork that is essential in a deployed environment to already be in place before we step foot downrange.”
Over the past year, the 61st AS and other 19th AW units participated in multiple exercises and lead the way developing an ops-testing radiological and post-EMP procedures for the entire AMC enterprise in order to project agile combat airlift skills in various AORs around the world.
“We progressed our full-spectrum readiness training which was validated during our U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Capstone in February, then we shifted focus to counter-violent extremist organization operations and surged in our deployment preparation,” Caylor said. “Additionally, we conducted joint-training with the U.S. Army using their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System vehicles to accomplish our complex loading requirements.”
The spin-up cycle brought along crucial training to ensure all Airmen preparing to deploy were combat ready, said Master Sgt. Justin Pike, 61st AS loadmaster.
“Training never stops for us,” he said. “Every exercise throughout the 12-month cycle prepared us for different aspects of our mission. We worked closely with our partners at the 34th Combat Training Squadron to focus training on what we might see downrange.”
Toward the end of their year-long dwell time, the novel coronavirus began to change the way the squadron tackled its required tasks.
“Completing our flying and ground training requirements took a great deal of effort from both the deploying individuals and the agencies that supported us,” Caylor said. “In the end, through the dedication and focused effort, we were able to meet and exceed all of our deployment training requirements.”
As 19th AW Airmen begin their four-month deployment, they will put to the test their expeditionary skills and support contingency operations by providing rapid global mobility to remote, austere, and distributed locations in contested environments.
“Through the ups and downs of 2019 and 2020, we have learned, grown, and prepared, which is what we expect from a team of professionals,” Caylor added. “We are ready.”