Team 725 AMS Moves the Mission “By the Horns!”


graphic by defense.gov

As Spain became one of the biggest European hotspots for the COVID crisis, it was only a matter of time before the first case appeared around Naval Station Rota. Units quickly moved to minimum manning, shift work, physical distancing, and responded to need for the warfighter.
The 725th Air Mobility Squadron is an AMC unit at Rota assigned to the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing at Ramstein. Together with its parent group, the 521st Air Mobility Operations Group, the 725 AMS supports AMC cargo and passenger transport at this important mobility hub in southern Spain. They help make Rota a capable location between the United States and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
The 725 AMS operates a Maintenance Operations Center (MOC) and Air Mobility Control Center (AMCC), which serves as a command, control, and communications node to service aircraft and aircrews. According to SMSgt David Martie, “One of our top priorities is to make sure aircraft and aircrew have what they need when they arrive, and that they can depart as close to planned time as possible with the things they need to have a successful sortie.”
Normally the 725 AMS team performs these functions for AMC crews only, but recently the AMCC’s seven members have stepped up to assist with Navy screening requirements when their Navy partners needed help. AMCC personnel provided temperature screening and medical questionnaires. Around Naval Station Rota, health protection conditions complicated operations, especially once air crews lost access to off-base hotels and lodging.
Shortly after the Spanish state of alarm, off-base hotels and lodging closed for transient personnel. This meant that inbound and outbound personnel at Rota (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines) had to compete for the scarce commodity of on-base lodging. “What we can handle as far as aircraft flow, that didn’t change based on COVID,” said Martie. “Our overall throughput capability remained, but one of our biggest limiting factors became how many people we could get into rooms.”
To solve this problem, the innovative Airmen of the 725 stepped up in a big way. In cases where there weren’t enough rooms, missions had to divert or flex to different times so that the crews could be taken care of. To accomplish this, the AMS’s TSgt Patrice Craig and SrA Joy Kantenwein developed new ways to identify missions in real time, working with planners at the Tanker Airlift Control Center (TACC) to spread missions across the AMC’s en route enterprise.
According to MSgt Robert Rein, AMCC superintendent, this effort required continual monitoring of arrival and departure times, and a constant juggling act with the few rooms available. “If we have a crew coming in,” he said, “are they going to need rooms immediately? Can we have to slip them a little bit? Or if they have enough crew duty time, can we can possibly quick turn them at our location, send them on their way, and free up some rooms? These are the types of things we think about every day since COVID changed the way we operate.”
The team also had to face precautionary quarantines themselves, at one point leaving SSgt Ozzie Slawnikowski temporarily in charge of a program he barely knew. With just a few days training from MSgt Rein, SSgt Slawnikowski not only kept the program running, he improved it. He and MSgt Steven Dowling created a short-notice tracker for missions and rooms. Now the 725 AMS team has a sophisticated, color-coded tracking system that stretches across three widescreen monitors and shows real time status in both an efficient and visually appealing way.
“It’s a big beautiful spreadsheet,” joked TSgt Craig, “It’s lovely.”
Aircrew support has not been the only challenge the 725 has had to face, and they certainly haven’t worked these challenges alone. Team 725’s Navy partners have been working with them every step of the way. AC2 Corey Valencourt provided assistance when large numbers of passengers needed a place to sleep without rooms available. He was a critical liaison between the 725 and Air Operations to find suitable lodging on short notice. ET1 Kathryn Steimel also stepped up to provide services as the facility manager when there was limited support during the base lockdown.  She went above and beyond to find contractors who fixed the air conditioning, door keypads, and bathrooms to ensure 725 AMS personnel could work from their duty location.
As SMSgt Martie attested, the program takes constant work and continual dedication. “It’s a program that doesn’t run Monday through Friday,” he said, “It runs every single day at all hours of the night.”
The task also goes beyond the minimum of making sure the missions continue to move. In truth, the AMCC’s role also extends into psychological realms of maintaining resilience.
When an aircraft lands at Rota, said Lt Col Ryan Herman, 725 AMS Commander, “we’re all in to support and serve our AMC teammates here at Rota. Even though we know that things are going to be a bit different and tougher than they’ve usually been, we maintain an optimistic mindset.”
In the end, the team’s dedication, creativity, and good relations with mission partners across the station ensured that Air Force and Navy mission planners could count on Rota operating as it always had, despite the crisis.
“We’ve anticipated and responded to the challenges in front of us,” said Lt Col Herman, “and because of that, our combatant commanders have not seen an interruption in service. We and our Navy partners have conquered so many challenges, but often it doesn’t ripple up even to my level because our Airmen solve the problems at theirs. That all comes from the leaders in the squadron from the bottom on up, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
The experience certainly proved memorable for those on the front lines.
“One of the things that in the future when I look back on this whole thing” said SSgt Slawnikowski, “is as a staff sergeant one day being told, ‘Your section chief is going to be quarantined for the next 14 days. The second highest ranking as well. So now you’re in charge.’ Being able to overcome and adapt, to take it all over and make it as unnoticeable as possible to the squadron… that for me will probably be the most memorable part of all this.”
The 725 AMS MOC and AMCC team is one essential part of an effective, operational squadron in the 521 AMOW, and it is certainly a team effort to get the mission done. The remarkable Airmen of the 725 AMS continue to develop proactive solutions to complex challenges. They make sure that they can enhance velocity of Rapid Global Mobility in the spirit of the 725 AMS motto, “By the Horns!”