Intel squadron continues to make mission happen through COVID-19

  • Published
  • By D.P. Heard
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

The 97th Intelligence Squadron continues to provide worldwide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to combatant commanders around the globe despite the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mission of the 97th is to provide mission-qualified aircrew for all variants of the RC-135 aircraft stationed here.

“We have had to make adjustments to our procedures and schedules in order to meet the 55th Wing commander’s intent of limiting the spread of COVID-19 while preserving operational capability,” said Lt. Col. Charles Laubach, 97th IS commander. “I am extremely proud of the resiliency and professionalism of the Shadows of the 97th in stepping up to meet the challenge of this unprecedented situation.”

A main component of this mission is executing mission qualification training for its squadron members to ensure they are capable of meeting worldwide deployment requirements as directed by the Secretary of Defense. This training has continued without fail throughout the current pandemic.

“Generating and flying during COVID-19 is key to our ability to continue global operations,” said Lt. Col. Richard Schermer, 55th Operations Group deputy commander. “Other wings … are flying today in order to train for future ops that may or may not be executed, but we are not like other wings. We are flying today to train operators who are going to replace crews that are deployed and executing their mission right now, today.”

However, overcoming adversity is nothing new to the Airmen of Team Offutt.

“The move to mission-essential operations for COVID-19 began on the one year anniversary of the flood that devastated our previous squadron building, Tennant Hall,” Laubach said.

“Just as we began to see the rebuilding efforts toward recovery from last March pay dividends, we were forced to adapt to a new normal once again,” said Chief Master Sgt. David Monaco, 97th IS superintendent. “Our Airmen were quick to adapt though and that is due, in very large part, to the steady and practiced leadership of our senior non-commissioned officers.”

The members of the 97th currently balance their time between teleworking and executing mission-essential activities in squadron facilities on the installation. For duties that cannot be accomplished remotely, such as flying and simulator training, precautions including social distancing and wearing protective masks are used to the maximum extent possible.

“This team immediately set up accountability procedures, communications plans, workflows and daily schedules to ensure that our Shadows’ skills remain razor sharp,” Monaco said. “Even as we balance the need to protect our families and our community with training for whatever operational tasking is levied upon the RC-135, our Airmen are continuing to pursue personal and professional development through distance learning opportunities and peer-led, online collaborative groups.”

The 97th is one of the oldest squadrons in the Air Force dating back to its founding at Kelly Field, Texas during World War I.

“Like our predecessors, the Airmen of the 97th will continue to rise to meet the challenges of a dangerous world,” Laubach said.

“These Airmen are some of the most resilient and innovative I have met,” Monaco added.