JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – In late February, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take a stronger foothold in the United States, 2nd Lt. Himanshu Chopra, the 502nd Logistics Readiness Squadron's flight commander of material management, began manning the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Emergency Operations Center as Emergency Support Function 1/7, working logistics and transportation. His peers and commanders credit him with doing an outstanding job, filling a critical need at a time of international crisis.
“Lt. Chopra has been the ESF 1/7, one of the logistics leads for the COVID-19 response for Joint Base San Antonio, and his work, his direct involvement has been engaged in coordinating a lot of the transportation as well as supply management procurement for the installation,” said Lt. Col. Joey Tortella, director of the JBSA-Lackland Emergency Operations Center.
Chopra’s duties have included ensuring that trainees and bus operators are safe from disease transmission, while the mission of the U.S. Air Force is ongoing. This encompasses everything from overseeing measures to remove seats from buses to comply with social distancing guidelines espoused by the Centers for Disease Control, to making sure that trainees are transported only with others in their same health categories.
In addition, Chopra helped with securing Personal Protective Equipment for bus drivers and custodians, such as surgical masks, gloves, and eyewear, as well as ordering disinfectant and sanitizer, all of which are scarce commodities.
Chopra said he secured supplies from multiple sources on behalf of JBSA. The 502nd Contracting Squadron's team’s network was able to locate cleaning supplies from the local economy. The Defense Logistics Agency also established a supply chain for masks and facial coverings for JBSA. But both of these sources have been secondary and tertiary.
“The primary source has been the Base Supply Center, also known as San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind, who have done the heavy lifting of sourcing our cleaning supply requirements,” Chopra said.
Even with help from outside agencies, according to Tortella, the EOC can be a very uncomfortable environment. The stress of responding to COVID-19 appropriately can be difficult for many. But Chopra, affectionately called “Chop-Chop,” handled the pressure deftly.
“He’s been at the forefront of all these [initiatives] and the big thing that has allowed him and the mission to be extremely successful is that he has an incredible can-do attitude,” Torella said. “He’s very positive, very motivated. He's an extremely strong leader.”
Born and raised in New Delhi, India, Chopra immigrated to the United States when he was 13 years old to escape a life of poverty. He believes much of his leadership skills under crisis can be traced to his experience surviving a difficult life in India.
He learned flawless English mostly from watching American cartoons and being in English as a Second Language class. After completing high school in New York City, he enlisted in the Air Force in 2006. Since then, he has been stationed in North Dakota, New Jersey, and Texas and has deployed to Guam, Alaska, and Qatar.
After coming to JBSA-Lackland in 2016, he served as a Military Training Instructor, MTI Supervisor, and MTI Trainer before commissioning in September 2019 through the Officer Training School’s first-ever Accelerated Commissioning Program for prior Senior Non-Commissioned Officers.
Tortella, who has never served as an MTI, said that having Chopra as a new officer on board to help facilitate requests for transportation from the 37th Training Wing has been incredible.
“He’s kind of like a translator, if you want to look at it that way,” Tortella said. “Having him here when some of those requests have come in, he’s able to translate so we understand the operational impact of what it is that they’re asking for and ensure that it’s appropriately resourced or prioritized to meet the needs of the 37th TRW.”
From immigrating to enlisting to cross-country moving and deploying, Chopra is used to changing gears and responding to different environments.
First, he learned the language of America, then the dialect of the military, then the lingo of the Airman, and now the jargon of the officer. All of these experiences have helped to shape him into the leader he is today, but he doesn’t take all the credit for the great work that is being done at the EOC.
Chopra attributes his success to teamwork. He said that in order to provide 24/7 support to the EOC, he split his responsibilities with four other people: 1st Lt. Ryan Pease, 2nd Lt. Lorenzo Martinez, 1st Lt. Matthew Cortes, and 2nd Lt. Lauren Dinneen.
“The entire EOC team was great,” he said. “It was amazing to watch everyone working toward the same common goal. There’s a sense of pride and energy in knowing your efforts are valued and you make a difference in JBSA’s efforts to combat COVID-19.”