KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
When Hurricane Irma was bearing down on the Caribbean, military aircraft in the storm’s path scrambled to escape to a safe haven.
Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, answered the call of some of those aircraft, hosting 31 U.S. Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopters, seven HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and two HC-130J Combat King II aircraft.
The 81st Operation Support Flight contributes to the operations and training mission here and their support to the last-minute movement of 40 aircraft, which included Naval helicopters, and 199 associated maintainers and pilots was recognized by U.S. Navy Capt. Mike Burd, Helicopter Maritime Strike Wing, Atlantic commodore.
“The officers I had leading the effort were truly impressed by the professionalism they saw from everyone there,” Burd said in an email to Col. Debra Lovette, 81st Training Wing commander. “The effort and support your team provided was exceptional, and there is no way we could have executed this in that timeline without your help.”
The 52 personnel of the 81st OSF provide operational support to the base, educational tours for various career fields and maintain the airfield driving program.
“We manage all airfield operations,” said Bobbie Longe, 81st OSF assistant airfield manager. “Between the tower, airfield management, air traffic control, landing systems, and weather, it’s running the airfield and handling all the air traffic. Everything on the air operations side of things is what we do.”
The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, 815th Airlift Squadron and the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, all part of the 403rd Wing, are able to operate to and from Keesler because of the daily efforts of the 81st OSF.
“Every component of the 81st OSF serves a critical purpose in getting both the Hurricane Hunters and the Flying Jennies safely off the ground, and back to parking after a successful mission,” said Longe.
Along with providing the 403rd Wing with approximately 4,800 sorties per year, the 81st OSF manages everything from the control tower and airfield systems to transient alert and weather operations.
“The control tower manages the aircraft once they have a legitimate flight plan,” said Sylvia Struble, 81st OSF airfield manager. “Base ops files the flight plan, passes it onto the tower and then the tower gives the aircrew’s permission to taxi. Weather is critical because it helps us with operational decisions such as when there is lightning within five.”
Along with managing the airfield, the 81st OSF also helps with the Keeslertraining mission.
“We provide briefings to airfield management three- and nine–level-course students, command post students, air traffic controllers and cadets,” said Sylvia Struble, 81st OSF airfield manager.
The tours the 81st OSF gives provides an opportunity for technical training students to see what an operational airfield looks like.
“All of their training programs include having tours on a weekly basis,” said Longe. “The instructors bring their classes over and we talk about what they do. It’s all about sharing education.”
School house personnel come to the airfield at least once during their technical training here.
“We also brief them on the need for continuous learning and honing their skills throughout their careers,” said Struble.
The 81st OSF brings their training mission to permanent party Airmen through the airfield driving program which teaches Airmen how to drive safely on the airfield.
“We are the ones responsible to make sure the airfield drivers get trained and certified,” said Longe. “We’re just making sure that people are operating safely and that they have the proper training.”
Airmen have to get orientations on the airfield day and night, study airfield driving instruction, complete computer based training on airfield driving, and then take a computer test that includes airfield diagram and layout before they pass the airfield driving course.
“The students benefit greatly by talking with our personnel,” said Struble. “It provides an opportunity for them to get hands-on experience and for us to teach our mission to Airmen at Keesler.”
The 81st OSF not only contributes to the Keesler training mission, but to the U.S. military as a whole.
“Although Keesler is primarily considered a training base, the airfield operations we do support have a significant impact,” said Longe. “Keesler is described as a ‘lead joint training installation,’ and the 81st OSF contributes to the mission by supporting local flying operations that include training for weather recon, airlifts, aeromedical operations, and support for sister service exercises.”