40 days, nights: AMC commander's battle staff directs round-the-clock support in COVID-19 fight
By 2nd Lt. Emma Quirk, Air Mobility Command Public Affairs / Published April 19, 2020
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- Forty days after Air Mobility Command commander Gen. Maryanne Miller activated the commander's battle staff, a small but dedicated group of experts continue to work tirelessly around-the-clock at Scott Air Force Base, overseeing AMC's contribution to the Defense Department's operations in the COVID-19 pandemic fight and arming Airmen with clear guidance on how to execute operations safely and effectively.
"We've been sprinting since Gen. Miller activated our CBS on March 4," said Maj. Gen. Samuel Mahaney, AMC chief of staff. "With clear instruction to provide a single, 24/7 cell of experts who can ensure uninterrupted rapid global mobility amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, these experts have produced more than 40 battle-staff directives that offer guidance to our Airmen on everything from aircraft decontamination to patient movement to timely reporting of COVID-19 cases on our installations. With masks donned, these unsung heroes inside the CBS have toiled around-the-clock to ensure we continue to help those in need during these difficult times."
Under Mahaney's direction and led by a colonel director, the CBS is comprised of civilian and military experts from across the headquarters staff, representing an array of specialties such as medical, logistics, operations, public affairs, security and liaisons from AMC's 618th Air Operations Center, to name a few. This collaborative team has provided expertise, networking, and unique perspectives to solving problems, answering urgent tasks and disseminating time-critical information.
Early on, the CBS anticipated a shift toward virtual operations. When the governor of Illinois announced a state-wide shelter-in-place, March 20, the team was already postured for the shift.
"Once Scott (AFB) followed suit by implementing reduced-manning operations, the CBS adjusted accordingly to protect the mission-essential personnel who continue to maintain a physical presence in work centers," said Col. John Platte, one of the first CBS directors to lead daily operations. "To remain connected while abiding by social-distancing procedures, we've done whatever necessary to maintain robust communications across the battle staff and headquarters while keeping our people safe, to include staggered shifts and utilizing teleconference calls, collaboration platforms and other technology."
As the CBS manages operations and responds to a steady flow of requests for information, several operational planning teams and working groups have labored away in adjacent rooms to develop in-depth plans and options for some of the more complex mobility issues AMC has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The CBS has been, and continues to be, critical to providing operational planning teams and working groups with information," said Col. Russel Frantz, who provided subject matter expertise to an OPT focused on aeromedical evacuation. "This data was used to plan for and execute AMC's first Transport Isolation System patient movement, work contracts for the next-generation airborne isolation system known as the Portable Bio-Containment Module, and help leadership understand COVID-19 impacts to training and readiness."
Among its more pressing tasks, the CBS was directed early on to develop guidance on how to continue conducting cargo and passenger movement and AE missions in and through high-risk areas, while remaining mindful of the growing risk that contagious passengers or patients might be aboard these missions.
"Our 24/7 OPTs have provided solutions on a variety of issues, including aircraft decontamination and the movement of contagious patients onboard pressurized, military aircraft," Frantz said. "We've developed similar guidance and procedures before on a limited basis during contingencies like the 2014 Ebola outbreak, but never of this scale and scope. Our detailed plans and directives have allowed AMC to continue to conduct airlift and AE missions across the globe in support of the joint force, our partners and allies."
Under the direction of Brig. Gen. Joel Jackson, AMC deputy director for Operations, and Operational Planning Group director, Col. Scott Minton, the CBS and its supporting OPTs helped plan and establish a TIS operation staged out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Additionally, within hours of the CBS publishing an OPT effort to develop AMC's Patient Movement Plan, a C-17 Globemaster III aircrew and medical support specialists stepped to their aircraft at Ramstein AB in the dark of night – with PMP in hand – to execute the first-ever operational employment of the TIS, and the first-ever movement of COVID-19 positive patients aboard a pressurized, military aircraft. The April 10 AE mission validated the efforts of the AMC planners who designed TIS operations and the PMP by safely transporting three infected U.S. contractors from Afghanistan to Ramstein AB where they are now receiving care at nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
"I'm immensely proud of what these Airmen have done through around-the-clock operations," Mahaney said. "Working long hours with a sense of urgency, their efforts providing guidance and resources to keep our AMC Airmen safe as they carry out the mobility mission across the globe, from passenger terminal specialists checking those seeking to fly aboard our gray tails, to security-forces Airmen checking identification at the gate."
As guidance is provided by the CBS, AMC units often provide formal and real-time feedback to the CBS director so they can revise to better meet the needs of the force.
"The men and women out executing the guidance we provide are our eyes and ears," said Col. Patrick Winstead, who pulled ten shifts as CBS director. "We depend on their feedback to make sure what we are providing is conducive to mission success."
He added that overall, feedback has been constructive and positive.
Though the duty hours may have changed for some, a constant state of readiness is nothing new to mobility Airmen.
AMC routinely responds to emerging requirements for airlift across the globe so the command is poised to support the whole-of-government effort to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.
"It is crucial we keep everything moving across the globe," Mahaney added. "Mobility Airmen continue to safely execute rapid global mobility, and headquarters AMC is no exception. We're doing everything possible to ensure our Airmen on the ground and in the skies are able to still conduct mobility operations in light of the elevated risk COVID-19 presents to our Airmen and operations."
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