Altus, Vance Airmen ‘salute’ Oklahomans fighting COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell
  • Altus Air Force Base Public Affairs

The 97th Air Mobility Wing here and the 71st Fighter Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base conducted a flyover of various medical facilities, May 1, 2020, as part of the America Strong collaborative salute initiative. 

The initiative is a Department of the Air Force effort to salute American heroes at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, including healthcare workers, first responders, transportation drivers, grocery workers, and other essential personnel. The flyover was also intended to lift morale in cities across Oklahoma due to the severe health and economic impacts that have resulted from the Coronavirus.

“We’re thrilled to be part of this Air Force Salutes event with our Altus partners," said Col. Corey Simmons, 71st FTW commander. "I can’t think of a better way of recognizing Oklahoma’s healthcare workers than a flyover while we conduct training operations. Service before self has long been an Air Force core value, and seeing the rest of the nation’s essential personnel rally behind a common cause has made it abundantly clear it’s an American core value as well."

The salutes started in the morning over Enid, journeyed to Oklahoma City, and then Lawton before returning to Altus. Four C-17 Globemaster IIIs, two KC-135 Stratotankers, and two KC-46 Pegasus aircraft from the 97th AMW were joined by four T-38 Talons, two T-1 Jayhawks, and four T-6 Texan IIs from the 71st FTW to execute the flyover, which was conducted at no additional cost to taxpayers. The flyovers additionally fulfilled critical training requirements for aircrew members who participated.

Airman 1st Class Molly Erickson, 97th Training Squadron loadmaster student, said she was grateful for the training provided by the flyover and for the opportunity to give back to the community despite having less than a year of service to the Air Force.

“I’m honored to participate in this salute so early in my career, especially since I’m still in training,” she said. “Military members receive so much support from people all over the country, so to be on the other end of that and give back to them and to say ‘thank you’ is so great.”

Capt. Kaylyn Leibrand, 56th Airlift Squadron instructor pilot, said the fight against the Coronavirus has been new and unique, and that she takes pride in working alongside her military and civilian counterparts to combat the threat. 

"We are used to defending the homeland and being on the frontlines of combat, but we are used to doing that a half a world away," she said. "Our healthcare providers and essential personnel are defending the homeland here, right now, amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. Defending the homeland has taken a new shape and we are proud to serve alongside those first responders."