ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Airmen of the 97th Air Mobility Wing conducted a severe weather exercise on May 21, 2020 to practice emergency response procedures.
Many residents in the Southern Midwest of the United States have grown up practicing procedures for tornadoes. At the 97th AMW, Airmen also need to practice aircraft evacuation in the event of a severe weather threat. An exercise of this scale requires a multitude of individuals and coordination of units across the wing.
“When a real-world event calls for the need to evacuate aircraft like severe weather, adversary actions, or any other extreme natural disasters, the decision is made by the base commander,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Tyler George, the chief of wing plans assigned to the 97th Air Mobility Wing Inspector General’s office. “Real-world weather prediction is anywhere around three to four days and having a plan gives the base commander a timeline to execute his order.”
As chief of wing planning, George coordinated the execution of the exercise plan with multiple agencies and commanders on how they will enact emergency weather procedures. The units that were not involved directly with generating aircraft coordinated procedures on how to assist units like cargo, fire, security, or medical support. According to George, exercising the plan helps to expedite emergency response capabilities.
“A total of ten KC-135 Stratotankers, ten C-17 Globemaster IIIs and four KC-46 Pegasus’ took off from the base,” said Maj. Jason Gossett, the 97th Operations Support Squadron wing tactics flight commander. “The operations group in the exercise will not only benefit from coordinating aircrew for the large formation but in flight as well. They had the ability to perform training that required a large amount of aircraft that doesn’t regularly occur at the base.”
According to Cliff Washington, the 97th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron deputy director, this exercise presented a unique task of generating more aircraft at the same time than usual. Though challenging, it is something that tested their ability to ensure readiness for real-world events.
“Maintenance on a daily basis is launching, recovering, and sending off aircraft throughout the day,” said Washington. “There are a lot of steps that go into the daily maintenance routine and essentially we are taking what we do throughout the day and performing it in a mass amount at the same time.”
Washington further explained that adjusting maintenance operations to support the exercise allows maintainers the opportunity to practice flexibility, similar to the challenges posed by the recent Coronavirus pandemic.
"With the pandemic, we have been keeping a handle on the big three; social distance as (much as) possible, regularly washing hands and wearing masks when required to be within six feet of others,” he said. “It’s starting to become the ‘norm,’ but it’s hard with having a lot of tasks requiring two people. We have offset that with wearing masks, minimal touching, increased handwashing, and stressing the importance of staying home if someone is sick.”
Adapting to new precautions presents challenges according to Gosset, but it improves readiness for other possible challenges base members might face. George agreed, stating that 97 AMW Airmen have shown commendable perseverance in finding new ways to succeed during COVID-19.
“Throughout this time we have been active in training and have continued to push through the best and safest way we can to ensure emergency readiness.”