CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
COVID-19 has stopped, or at least slowed down, many normal work activities. However, one aspect of Cannon’s mission that has remained operating under these unique circumstances is the requirement to keep fulfilling deployment obligations.
Members of the 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron are continuing to lead deployment efforts by assembling a 27th Special Operation Wing’s tiger team who assists all units across the wing by quarantining deployers before they go into theater - a requirement that must be met.
“A tiger team is a group made of specialists to finish a job,” said Capt. Youngjae Han, 27 SOLRS director of operations. “Master Sgt. Shoemaker and myself led the charge to get people together to make sure we have everything we need to get our deployers going as quickly and as safely as possible.”
The intent of the 14-day quarantine procedure is to eliminate potential loss of combat capabilities in the deployed location. Additionally, some host nations do not have the capability to quarantine inbound personnel in their installations, meaning the only option is to quarantine them here at Cannon before they leave.
“It gets our people out safely,” Han said. “They can quarantine at home and not have to hole up somewhere foreign. But it also allows the deployers that are currently deployed whose tour length was extended due to COVID-19 to come home quicker and join their loved ones.”
The wheels were set in motion immediately after the Secretary of Defense updated the Stop Movement Restriction which allowed travel for deployments and re-deployments. Air Commandos had to manage food, transportation, medical needs, and laundry to name a few.
“The process of coming up with a system and location to house and quarantine more than 100 people in just under a week was quite the challenge,” said Master Sgt. Karl Shoemaker, 27th Special Operations Logistics individual protection equipment section chief. “That being said, we have great support on this base and everyone pulled together to get things done.”
The 27th Special Operations Force Support Squadron provided food and morale support. The 27th Special Operations Medical Group provided guidance for people to remain healthy and safe during quarantine. The 27th Special Operations Air Operations Squadron was key to the operation as they provided the quarantine site and were instrumental in purchasing the equipment and coordinating the time needed for deployers to quarantine. Cannon’s first Sergeants provided volunteers to man the entry control point and also assisted in getting the chaplain core to support morale events while personnel were in quarantine while still maintaining social distancing.
“Getting the lodging and all other requirements in about a week was a major hurdle in and of itself,” Shoemaker said. “But doing that during a global pandemic made it even more of a challenge. That being said, all agencies and personnel involved in plan and execution were always flexible and worked their hardest to get things completed on time. As the saying goes, ‘flexibility is the key to air power’ and this was a shining example of that flexibility being brought to solve and execute a short notice requirement.”
To further ensure the health and safety of those in quarantine, nasal swabs were taken from the deployers and processed by lab techs from the 27SOMDG on May 20 in order to meet the theater requirements. The swabs were packaged and prepared for air transport to be tested at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where the swabs were tested to clear the deployers for their COVID-19 test requirements.
In order to deliver the swabs safely and quickly, the 318th Special Operations Squadron provided their assistance. They utilized the capabilities of their PC-12 Mustang to transport the test samples to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Upon delivery the samples were quickly taken to Brooke Army Medical Center. From sampling to testing, the whole operation took a total of twelve hours.
While in quarantine, deployers stayed in communication with the tiger team to inform of any issues that arose. The team was quick to address the issues and made sure to track the issues for future requirements.
“During the 14 days, all supporting units made sure we met the requirements of our deployers,” Han said. “We wanted their stay to be as comfortable as possible. They were split into small groups so they could attend various activities such as morale tents, a gym while limiting possible exposure and spread of COVID-19 while keeping our people happy and healthy.”
There are currently plans to improve the system including a new shower trailer, new beds to prevent people sleeping on cots, and a contract for laundry to be completed in Clovis.
“The feeling of completing a job is always a great feeling,” Shoemaker said. “Knowing that we were able to keep Cannon and the Air Force Special Operations Command mission on track and lethal is an outstanding feeling. We cannot be prouder of all the different agencies that came together and enabled the success and completion of this requirement. It showed that anything is possible when we pool our resources and bring them to bear against the issue.”