AVIANO AIR BASE, iTALY --
The 724th Air Mobility Squadron, an Air Mobility Command tenant unit at Aviano Air Base, Italy, earned the 2020 Air Force Small Terminal Unit of the Year award March 16, 2021.
With just 44 military and civilian employees in the shop, they are the smallest squadron out of 11 air mobility squadrons in the U.S. European Command. Despite the small numbers, it didn’t stop the 724th AMS from proving what big things they could accomplish from October 2019 to September 2020.
The 724th AMS supports the 31st Fighter Wing and the 173rd Airborne Brigade through deployments by completing airworthiness inspections, which measures an aircraft’s suitability for a safe flight prior to takeoff. Each piece of cargo is inspected by the 724th AMS before it’s loaded on a U.S. Air Force aircraft.
“The Rangers from the 173rd at Vicenza, who are one of our main mission partners, needed to deploy to Beirut to protect the embassy in December 2019,” said Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Okkerse, 724th AMS superintendent. “We pushed 325 Rangers and their gear out of here in under 48 hours, demonstrating the national defense strategy concept to move forces quickly.”
In March 2020, former President Donald Trump ordered Aviano to ship COVID-19 test kits to the United States. The 724th AMS also delivered En-route Patient Staging Systems (ERPSS) to Italian hospitals that had a shortage of intensive care unit beds.
“There were 22 million test kits that were delivered to the U.S over a six-week period,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Latham, 724th AMS operations flight chief. “Once a week, trucks full of test kits came during the night and we built cargo pallets for the flights back to the [U.S.] states. The following morning, C-17 [Globemasters] took those pallets where they were needed.”
The 724th AMS also developed a cutting-edge biannual program, the ‘Shark Tank’, to fuel innovative ideas within the squadron.
One of their ideas included improving the sound system at the gate and another was to have drones complete a post attack reconnaissance (PAR) sweep, eliminating the need for humans to do it.
“The leadership are the ‘sharks’ and sit at the front of the room while ideas are presented to us on how to innovate the squadron,” said Okkerse. “More than 45 percent of our discretionary spending in 2020 came from Airmen-fueled ideas. Almost 50 percent of the money we spend came from the shark tank ideas.”
The 724th AMS is made up of two flights, the operations flight and the combat readiness and resources flight.
The operations flight performs inspections and loads cargo and passengers on AMC aircraft. The resources flight ensures the operations flight has all the resources needed to load and unload the jets, said Tech. Sgt. Eduardo Mora, 724th AMS noncommissioned officer in charge of combat readiness and resources flight.
All these feats were completed on two separate shifts to help reduce the possible exposure to COVID-19, splitting their already small shop in half. The team went above and beyond to complete the required tasks and the award reflects that, said Mora.
“I think this is a huge win,” said Latham. “It just shows the kind of work that these guys are putting in. At the end of the day, it's my team that won the award, and all the work that they did. I'm proud of them.”