By Master Sgt. Jeremy Farson, 117th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 01, 2020
A KC-135R Stratotanker is unloaded as airmen from the 117th Air Refueling Wing return from an overseas deployment at Sumpter Smith JNGB, Birmingham, Alabama April 12, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Col. Scott Grant)
There was a homecoming here on Easter Sunday, April 12, as approximately 30 Airmen returned from an overseas deployment.
Most of the Airmen returning were from the 134th Air Refueling Wing with the Tennessee Air National Guard.
There were a few obstacles because of weather across the Southeast U.S. and work restrictions due to COVID-19.
“Weather can always be factor in the need to divert, but this flight presented a multi-faceted problem to solve due to weather, COVID-19 and logistical needs of other units riding along in our aircraft,” said Col. Mike Metcalf, Commander of the 117th Operations Group. “Because of the lean operations due to social distancing requirements, communication with the aircrew was key and the Airmen here did a great job recovering the aircraft and getting personnel cleared and processed.”
The Airmen were delayed before departing from overseas due to aircraft mechanical issues and COVID-19 travel restrictions. Their scheduled flight to Birmingham required a contingency plan of a potential stop in Charleston because of bands of storms.
“Our crews are skilled decision makers weighing the risk and reward,” said Metcalf. “Thankfully all the coordination paid off as the aircraft’s landing was just in front of the next band of poor weather.”
Although a landing in Charleston was not needed, coordination with the aircrew was necessary for COVID-19 isolation precautions with social distancing, lodging, local transportation and food considerations.
External communication was also needed with both overseas and stateside bases, leadership of the 134 ARW, logistics and external government agencies for flight coordination. More efficient work processes have been required due to minimal base staffing requirements to accomplish missions.
“We are operating much leaner and accomplishing a heightened level of risk assessment every day,” said Metcalf. “Some elements of this will subside with the eventual decreasing threat of COVID-19, but we are taking stock of those areas where we have learned constructive ways to lean out our approach to the long-term as well.”
All returning personnel on board the aircraft were given a health examination. After a 14-day home quarantine all healthy Airmen should be able to return to work.