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Pope and Charleston conquer training despite COVID

  • Published
  • By SSgt Heather Britten

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has altered life for everyone, and the aircrew and maintainers of Team Pope are no different.

With physical distancing and the DOD-implemented stop movement creating obstacles, this posed a unique problem for the C-17 crewmembers assigned to the 43rd Operations Support Squadron at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina. In normal times, they fly with the 437th Operations Group at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. But these aren’t normal times.

When Pope Air Force Base was realigned under Fort Bragg in 2011, many of the Air Force-owned aircraft moved to other bases even though many Air Force personnel remained to support the airborne mission, including C-17 and C-130 qualified aircrew. Now the additional obstacles stemming from COVID-19 make the training even more difficult to complete.

When 43rd OSS Commander Lt. Col. Dave Schur expressed concerns about the mounting requirements for his aircrew being unable to travel, his colleagues at Team Charleston provided flight orders to accomplish this over eight days earlier this month.

“Lt. Col. Schur came up with a win-win solution to meet his assigned personnel’s training requirements while also keeping flight crews safely isolated in this COVID operating environment,” explained Paul Eberhart, deputy director of operations for the 437th Operations Group. “Many wings within Air Mobility Command have ‘hard crews’ that are assigned, trained, and operate from a single base. Since the 43rd pilots are attached to, but not co-located with, the 437th in Charleston, they aren’t able to join our crews on training missions.”

“We were fortunate to accomplish this off-station training with an aircraft provided by the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston,” remarked Lt. Col Coningsby Burdon, director of operations for the 43rd OSS. “The goal was to accomplish all semi-annual air-land training events for the C-17 pilots and loadmasters assigned to units at Pope and Fort Bragg, as well as maintenance training required of the 43rd Air Mobility Squadron.”

Team Pope accomplished 211 training events for pilots and loadmasters, including assault landings, tactical flying with night vision goggles, ground operations, low level operations, and instrument approaches. Additionally, two training sorties were re-tasked with short notice to support an 82nd Airborne Division Immediate Response Force deployment, according to Burdon. Thanks to the partnerships, a combined 10 C-17 pilots (including three air mobility liaison officers) and seven loadmasters were able to accomplish training requirements. Maintainers accomplished 48 hours of training including towing, engine runs, integral jacking and liquid oxygen servicing.

“COVID has created obstacles for several pilots to maintain flying requirements,” said Norman Moore, deputy director of the 437th Maintenance Group. “Providing a tail for training was the most prudent and economical way to assist. We were happy to loan them the jet. It’s important for our C-17 crews to be ready for answering our Nation’s call at any time.”