Conch Fury 2024 sees Westover Airmen train side by side

  • Published
  • By US Air Force Senior Airman Stephen Underwood
  • 439th Airlift Wing

Over 200 Westover Airmen descended on Key West, Fla. and Puerto Rico on Monday, April 8 to take part in Operation Conch Fury.

The large-scale mobilization saw several participating units including aircraft maintenance, aeromedical evacuation, aerial port squadron and flight operations deploy for a week-long simulation providing real-world experience and hands-on training in a tropical environment.

“We’re executing the commander of the Air Force Reserve’s task order,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Behr, 439th Expeditionary Airlift Wing Commander. “The order is to be ready, and the best way to do that, is to just pick up and do it.”

“We got just about every unit in the wing participating in this in some way, shape, or form,” Behr said. “It’s all hands on deck and we have a lot of interoperability. Aerial port is working with maintenance, and they’re getting trained by aerial port. Flight operations is flying the jets, and we have assistance from other wings. Aeromedical evacuation is also doing evac missions. It’s quite an operation.”

Westover mobilized two C-5 Galaxy aircraft as part of transporting Airmen to Naval Air Station, Key West. Andrews Air Force Base and Wright-Patterson AFB also participated in Conch Fury mobilizing a C-17 Globemaster and a KC-135 Stratotanker for aircraft refueling.

“It’s really important to get this real-world experience for my job,” said Senior Airman Nilda Izquierdo-Castro, 439th AMXS sheet metal technician. “I don’t get to do this every day, so to be out here taking part in this, I’m able to get a feel for how it would be when we’re actually downrange.”

Izquierdo-Castro, who said this is her first training operation outside of Westover, called it an experience she will long remember in her military career.

“Just being able to meet people from other units and working together with them has been really helpful,” Izquierdo-Castro said. “That’s the part of it you don’t always get.”

Multi-capable Airmen, which is part of the operation task order, seeks to ensure Airmen are equipped with an array of skill sets to meet mission readiness and requirements outside of their own job requirements. Operation Conch Fury saw units working side-by-side to help train each other to learn additional skill sets.

“Being a multi-capable Airmen means being flexible, getting up and ready to go in any environment and do a different job that you don’t normally do, but be able to do it to help the mission,” said Staff Sergeant Kyle Johnson, 439th AMXS technician. “It means I can help out in other areas. So if we’re down a man or we're short staffed, I can pick up and help do something that’s not my expertise.”

The 439th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron participated in sorties from Key West to Puerto Rico to help train Airmen on airlifting patients in a warm climate under similar conditions of the Indo-Pacific islands.

“Landing in Puerto Rico, coming in hot, sweaty, tired…that just prepares us for what we could walk into in the future,” said Tech Sgt. Daniel Pedretti, 439th AES air evacuation technician. “Going into a hotter climate with unknown information and coming in and out as efficiently as possible is as realistic as you’re going to get. You’re going to have a helicopter land, patients you know nothing about, and then you have to triage them and move as fast as possible.”

 A helicopter, provided by Puerto Rico Air National Guard members, landed with mock patients to triage and transport on a C-17 aircraft back to Key West.

“We get each patient's baseline first,” Pedretti said. “We’re looking at heart rate, blood pressure, and any change in their mental status. It helps us understand what they need when they get on the aircraft. We then start treating them and getting them exactly what they need to safely land.”

“These kinds of training missions are essential to our readiness,” Pedretti said. “It allows us to test our skills and really put us to the test.”