MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
As the sun begins to set, Airmen from the 349th Air Refueling Squadron board a KC-135 Stratotanker; their smiles hidden and laughter muffled by the brightly patterned face masks they wear. Yet even with their faces covered, the masks cannot hide the high spirits of the Airmen ready to deploy.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the execution may change but Team McConnell’s mission remains the same — fuel the fight through combat-ready Airmen and mission support.
“Often, times of crisis allow people an opportunity to step up,” said Lt. Col Daniel Schone, 349th ARS Commander. “And that's exactly what we’ve seen from the 349th and the supporting agencies from across the base.”
The implementation of a base-wide increased health protection condition required McConnell’s agencies to become innovative during the preparation for the 349th ARS’s deployment to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
“This has been a team effort across the board,” said Schone.
In order to ensure the health of the aircrews slated to deploy, processes were adapted to limit physical touch points while still maintaining the same readiness effect. This meant folders were prepared with the required documentation and sent through a mobility line in place of Airmen, aircrew baggage was loaded on the aircraft in advance and preflight checks were performed a day prior to the deployment by other Airmen. All of which helped create a position where aircrew members could report directly to the aircraft with limited risk of exposure.
“It's obviously a different dynamic than what we’re used to,” said Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Tessmann, 349th ARS squadron superintendent. “But all the work that has been put in has made it incredibly easy for us to get out the door.”
In the two weeks leading up to the deployment, the 349th ARS transitioned to minimal manning as aircrew self-quarantined in their homes. Pilots and boom operators utilized web conferencing, which became key in the continuation of mission preparation and sustaining their knowledge level for the deployment and 16-hour flight to Al Udeid.
“In our squadron we hang our hats on being the Bandit family, so when it comes down to it, our number one priority is caring for each other and our families,” said Schone. “This doesn't change whether we are facing COVID-19, training, or executing combat operations. As long as we continue to care for each other, the mission will get done.”