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23d FG finds new normal

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Hayden Legg
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

When a global pandemic strikes, the mission doesn’t change – the way we go about it does.

In an effort to preserve combat power, the 23d Fighter Group recently resumed operations with new measures in place to protect Airmen and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Despite the pandemic concerns, we as the warfighters must provide an operational capability. Doing so requires balance,” said Capt. Ross Elder, 23d Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations. “As a pilot, many operations require being in close contact to other flight members, maintenance personnel and supporting functions. In order to operate, we developed standards that are constantly being improved and updated to best protect both the pilots and the individuals we come in contact with.”

The 23d FG directs the flying and maintenance operations for two combat-ready A-10C Thunderbolt II squadrons and an operations support squadron. Their capability to provide close air support to combatant commanders relies on their ability to train at home station.

“If you shut off the flying mission, you degrade that mission day by day,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lederhouse, 23d OSS commander. “It’s not like riding a bike; pilots need to fly often and be ready for every situation that’s out there. One of the unique things about the OSS is it doesn’t matter if you’re flying one airplane or 30 airplanes; our folks are working to support that. So our balancing of the risk at the OSS is ‘what are they doing internally in those facilities to keep themselves safe?’”

On the flightline side, the 23d FG used guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine best practices for the pilots and maintainers who typically work in close proximity.

“We’ve followed the CDC’s guidance for physical distancing, personal hygiene and staying at home when you don’t feel well,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Joca, 75th Fighter Squadron commander. “We’ve also broken the squadron up into two equal teams. In the unfortunate case the virus does hit one of the teams, the other team is poised to stand up and continue maintaining the level of readiness we require.”

For the Airmen assigned to the 23d FG, this new normal may take some getting used to, but risk-balanced operations ensures the safety of Airmen during duty hours.

“We must develop ever-improving practices to balance both risk mitigation and production of combat-ready Airmen,” Elder said. “While we have all expected difficulties with the transition to RBO, I am very impressed by the ability of the base and its Airmen to quickly adapt and improvise solutions in order to better meet the needs of our combatant commanders.”

The vision of the 23d Wing is Resilient-Adaptable-Always Ready. For Joca, the 23d Fighter Group’s response to this pandemic is a testament to that.

“There’s nothing this team can’t overcome,” Joca said. “We’re poised and ready to provide unsurpassed close air support to any combatant commander. It’s that pride in the mission that gets us up in the morning and it’s that pride that’s going to sustain us through this crisis.”