ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga., –
Reserve Citizen Airmen with the 413th Flight Test Group recently gathered for the unit’s first-ever virtual conference, hosted at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.
With travel restrictions still in effect DoD-wide due to ongoing COVID-19 risks, the conference gave group members an opportunity to safely discuss aspects of various unit programs and touch on relevant topics to strengthen the organization.
The conference began with Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Gwyn, 413th FTG superintendent, giving a rundown of some of the group’s 2020 accomplishments, including the unit’s success in adapting to the atmosphere and continuing the mission.
“We’re all about flight test – sustaining and enhancing our combat capabilities,” Gwyn said. “You would not have known there was a pandemic going on. We sustained the mission, and I’m sure at times, the mission sustained us.”
Col. Sean Bittner, 413th FTG commander, shared the chief’s sentiments regarding the unit’s efforts in maintaining operations pace.
“Our mission hasn’t suffered at all,” Bittner said. “In fact, it’s actually thrived. In the COVID environment, there are so many things that get blamed on not happening because of COVID. Well, we can say wholeheartedly and 100% that our mission hasn’t suffered one bit … It may have changed a little bit, but we still got the job done, and I appreciate that.”
Bittner took command of the 413th FTG in the summer of 2020. Before that, he worked at Headquarters, Air Force Reserve Command within the safety directorate. During the conference, he mentioned sitting in on some of the early AFRC COVID-19 preparation meetings and getting a clear understanding that the 413th FTG mission was one of key importance to the command, with much of the unit being classified as mission essential.
“That goes across all of our portfolios in agile combat support, whether it be depot flight test, force support or medical support,” Bittner said. “We’ve answered that call. I couldn’t be happier to lead this organization. You constantly amaze me with everything you’ve accomplished over the past year, despite many challenges.”
In addition to reflecting on the group’s stateside mission, Lt. Col. Terry Gable, 339th Flight Test Squadron F-15 functional check flight pilot, discussed his deployment experience at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, headquarters to U.S. Air Force in Europe and Air Forces Africa. There, he served as the director of staff for the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing, the only U.S. Air Force wing with a presence in Africa.
Gable led Airmen from various career fields that ranged from administration to medical to security forces, with a mission to support joint and coalition partners at four bases in Africa. He shared how it took him a while to adjust to the role and learn to trust his team.
“It took me about, I’d say, a good three weeks to get my feet under me,” Gable said. “Once I realized I was just there to take care of the people, and let the people take care of the mission, I humbled myself … the mission was going much smoother. I needed to get my hands out of everyone else’s business.”
Some of the other topics covered during the virtual conference were the Airman Comprehensive Assessment worksheet process led by the 413th Force Support Flight, the Active Guard Reserve hiring Call to Duty program led by 413th FTG commander’s support staff and the 413th Aeromedical Staging Squadron’s COVID-19 vaccine program.
Six of the 413th FTG’s nine units are geographically separated throughout five states across the country. Communication, under normal circumstances, can be a challenge, but it’s been especially trying during recent times.
“What I found over the last year is that – communication, we always knew it was important,” said Col. Sean Bittner, 413th FTG commander. “But it’s much more difficult in a COVID environment, having to do so much less face-to-face [interaction]. From where we were last March to where we are now, technology-wise, is really good. But I hope we get back into more of the in-person [visits]."
The 413th FTG hopes to get commanders, superintendents and other unit leaders together in person this Fall and plans to host another mass virtual conference next Spring.