621 CRW tests hurricane relief capabilities during COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sarah Brice
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing were in Louisiana and Mississippi July 26-31 to participate in the unit’s first full-scale exercise in the COVID-19 environment.


Exercise Swamp Devil arose in the midst of other exercises being postponed due to COVID-19, which Devil Raider Airmen rely on for proficiency training and preparing to conduct operations in uncertain environments. Swamp Devil added a new factor into the mix: operating during a pandemic while responding to a major hurricane.


“It gives us the opportunity to practice what our precautions would be like if we did have to respond to a hurricane during this upcoming hurricane season while the pandemic continues to be a real-life consideration,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Johnson, 321st Contingency Response Squadron operations officer.


Despite COVID-19 changing the way the unit trains and participates in exercises, Airmen were still able to maintain critical readiness as much as possible with smaller, local training in order to respond to contingency or humanitarian assistance missions at any time with 12-hours’ notice. However, the 621st CRW recognized the need to adapt to the changing environment of COVID-19 and put together its own exercise that not only focused on readiness and training but also on force health protection.


Exercise participants followed strict precautions to prevent potentially spreading the virus within the unit and the local community. They wore masks indoors as well as outdoors if they couldn't maintain social distancing, sanitized equipment and workplaces between shifts, conducted daily temperature checks, and structured shift changes in a way to minimize exposure with too many people. Airmen were allowed to commute only to and from their hotel and the airfield, with the exception of getting takeout food.


Scenarios were injected into the exercise where Airmen responded to COVID-19 situations and had to practice quarantine and other force health protection measures while showing the capability to keep the mission going with a smaller team when necessary.


The moving parts of the mission included jobs like command control and maintenance maintainers as well as aerial port functions where Airmen helped on- and off-load simulated humanitarian relief supplies from C-17 Globemaster III, C-130J Super Hercules, and C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft, which could also potentially evacuate personnel if required for the situation.


“Everyone did really well and they were really able to adapt how they normally work to working in a risk-mitigated environment,” said Master Sgt. Ryan Fowler, 621st Contingency Response Support Squadron support flight chief and also one of the exercise coordinators. “With all the scenarios, it really forced people to think through their processes and mitigation while considering the secondary and tertiary effects and I think they’re now better prepared to do operations in a COVID environment.”


Exercise Swamp Devil was a total force effort consisting of Air Force active-duty, Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen with civilian counterparts. Units participating in this exercise included the 621st CRW, the 34th Combat Training Squadron from Little Rock Air Force Base, Louisiana, the Puerto Rico Air National Guard, and various flying units from Air Mobility Command, the Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve Command.


I've just been really proud of our people and partners who have joined us. Everybody's remained flexible and they're working together to get the most training value for everybody in a challenging circumstance,” said Johnson.