Swanton, Ohio --
One Saturday morning in March, I was at home with my family when the phone rang. On the other end was Col. William Giezie, 180th Fighter Wing Vice Commander, inquiring if I was available to respond to a tasking named “Operation Steady Resolve,” or in layman’s terms – the COVID-19 response. Naturally, I said yes, looking for guidance on what my mission was and where I needed to report to. At this point in the call, Giezie gave me a phone number and told me to dial into a conference call for a direct conversation with The Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. John C. Harris, scheduled for the next day, to receive guidance moving forward.
Through this conference call, I quickly learned that I would be one of five Regional Unified Command Team Leaders throughout Ohio, responsible for Northwest Ohio, comprised of 21 counties and 1.4 million citizens. My tasking was to provide a “whole of government” approach to federal, state, county, local healthcare and civilian entities, to respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic, or COVID-19.
With all that was going on around us at that time, Gen. Harris had the foresight to empower us with the flexibility to work within our regions to assess the needs of the community, and, to his credit, recognized each region would have its strengths and challenges.
One of the challenges we faced early on was the lack of a Medical Alternate Care Facility, ACF, in the event that the 32 hospitals in the Northwest Ohio region became overwhelmed, and we had to be prepared to secure a location to send an overflow of patients.
As we began to develop plans to explore sites throughout Northwest Ohio to facilitate an ACF to accommodate up to 400 COVID-19 patients, we quickly figured out something we, in the military, take for granted – a lack of a common operating environment. This became apparent as we starting working with the various levels of government and the healthcare system.
As we integrated ourselves with our community partners, we started socializing a common theme of a common operating environment, working to cross-functionally breakdown the silo’ed effect of communication and command and control.
Fortunately for me, I had some great teammates from several military, government and civilian agencies to facilitate and take the lead on several issues; most notably Lt. Col. John Cupp, assigned to the180FW, Mr. Patrick Trejchel, assigned to the Northwest Hospital Coalition, Ms. Tammy Feehan, assigned to the Ohio Emergency Management Association, Mr. Layth Istefan, assigned to the Ohio Department of Transportaion, and Maj. Paul Estrada and Maj. Brett Green, both assigned to the Ohio Army National Guard. All were amazing individuals who played an integral role of meeting Maj. Gen. Harris’ commander’s intent of meeting the needs of the citizens for the state of Ohio.
As time moved forward, the mobilization of the healthcare community was impressive. The conditions they had to operate under were extraordinary and they stepped up to the challenge. The efforts of the whole government response, enabled a comprehensive insurance policy for the citizens of Ohio, and in a time of uncertainty, we came together as a community to work under a common operating environment for the betterment of society as a whole. Each and every one of us were honored to be a part of the solution.
Ultimately, the Seagate Convention Center, in Toledo, was selected as the Regional ACF, and, fortunately, we have not had to activate it so far. However all the contractual instruments are in place in the event it is ever needed.
Naturally, we as humans adapt quickly to our new environments, and just like everyone else, we were introduced to Zoom and Teams meetings and seemingly endless teleconferences, all in an effort to communicate across the entire state to meet mission objectives. All the while, the 180FW had its’s own challenges; maintaining the Homeland Defense mission, keeping our pilots mission ready, fixing F-16’s, juggling teleworking schedules, virtual training, ongoing construction, quarantining Airmen before deployments to various locations throughout the world, in support of Agile Combat Support taskings, and most recently having school start up, some virtual - some in-person.
One of the things I most admire about the military is our ability to be nimble and flexible when the situation requires it. In this case, we are adjusting to our new normal and our Airmen have shown such great resiliency, not only to get the mission done, but also to care for their families.
I will admit this has been a challenging year so far, but overall, we as an organization have stepped up and kept the mission relevant, working with our Airmen to address their needs, and continuing to innovate new and better ways to accomplish the mission!
As leaders, we have the responsibility in uncertain times to create stability, have faith in our Airmen, apply common sense and work to keep some semblance of normalcy. I think Col. DiDio, 180FW commander, has done an admirable job of empowering the flexibility to address the needs of the wing in relation to keeping the mission at the forefront, while addressing concerns of the Airmen.
Lastly, as I wind down my 39 years in the U.S. Air Force, thank you and your families for your service and your sacrifice. Thanks for your dedication and for everything you do and making the 180FW relevant and an awesome place to be. I appreciate having the opportunity to come from active duty as a Senior Airman, join the 180FW, make it to Master Sgt., get commissioned and then being promoted to Colonel, it has truly been a great experience.
To stay relevant, never take anything for granted, and always leave the place better than when you found it. Best of luck to each of you in your future endeavors, Stinger’s will always hold a special place in my heart.