413th FTG honors essential workers with flyover

  • Published
  • By Jamal Sutter
  • 413th Flight Test Group Public Affairs
It’s 1:50 p.m., and a crowd grows larger as anticipation builds for something special at Houston Medical Center. Members of the local police and fire departments are on-scene, and an American flag atop a tiller ladder waves proudly. With temperatures in the 80s and a clear, blue sky, it’s a perfect day to view an F-15 Eagle flyover.

The Air Force Reserve’s 339th Flight Test Squadron, a unit within the 413th Flight Test Group out of Robins Air Force Base, performed a single-ship F-15 flyover May 5, 2020, making passes over Middle Georgia hospitals to honor healthcare workers, first responders and other essential workers currently in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019.

The event signified Team Robins’ contribution in Operation Air Force Salutes, a nationwide effort by the U.S. Air Force that birthed various appreciation flyovers across the country within the past few weeks.

“We were extremely honored and privileged to salute our community and base medical and first-line responders who are on the front lines every day fighting this pandemic and protecting the people of Middle Georgia and Robins AFB,” said Col. Brian Moore, Robins installation commander. “They are brave and resilient warriors whom we are extremely grateful for their service.”

After departing base at approximately 2 p.m., the F-15 headed north to make a pass over the Coliseum Medical and Navicent Health Centers in Macon. It, then, traveled back south to fly over Perry Hospital in Perry, before reaching Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins around 2:20 p.m.

Employees at each medical center gathered outside to view the flyover, with many ready to record the event with their smart phones or other devices. Some even stood on rooftops for their own unique viewing experience.

“Seeing the F-15 fly over was humbling for us,” said Geoffrey Engle, Houston Medical Center radiologic technologist. “We’ve grown up in a town where we’ve always looked up to the military … having them do something for us was just a great sign of community support and the support we’ve seen in solidarity from everybody.”

When Robins AFB publicly announced the flyover and its flight route on May 1, word spread quickly and people reacted on social media platforms in celebration and gratitude. Special requests even came in as many asked if the F-15 could fly over other locations in the area. With so much support and demand coming from the community, the 339th FLTS decided to add two medical facilities in Dublin, Georgia, to the flight path a day before the event.

“It was an absolute honor to recognize those front-line medical professionals and first responders with an F-15 flyover,” said Lt. Col. Matthew “Burner” Griffin, 339th FLTS director of operations and flyover pilot. “Being a native of Middle Georgia, the flyover held increased importance as I personally know many of the front-line medical workers in the area displaying the sacrifice and courage to confront COVID-19.”

Houston County, home to much of the Robins AFB community has had its share of COVID-19 cases. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s official website, there have been 290 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Houston County, resulting in 15 deaths as of May 12.

“First, it was a little scary and nerve-racking,” Engle said. “We’re all working a bunch of hours and didn’t really know what to expect. But one thing I think we’ve noticed the most is the family-oriented people we have actually working here … and it’s actually drawn all of us as a team closer together. We lean on each other. We’re each there to pick each other up when someone’s having a down day.”

Citizens in the Robins and Houston County areas have been receptive to federal and state guidelines concerning the virus, said Ross Moulton, Warner Robins Fire Department fire chief. Wanting to set an example, his fire team has taken necessary steps to ensure public safety.

“From the aspect of within our fire department, it has been business as usually with the addition of new protocols when responding to possible COVID patients,” Moulton said. “With that being an invisible virus, we have treated every response as if there is a potential exposure. So, [personal protective equipment] and decontamination has been an integral part of every incident.”

Col. Maureen Farrell, 78th Medical Group commander, accompanied Griffin as a passenger in the two-seated aircraft during the flyover. Leading a unit that also aids in COVID-19 response efforts, Farrell’s involvement symbolized an additional nod to the individuals her Airmen fight alongside.

Robins received lots of positive feedback, as photos, videos and comments related to the flyover made rounds on social media platforms, local news stations and other avenues.

“I was fortunate enough to be at work during the fly-by this afternoon,” said Jo Newborn, Coliseum Medical Center nurse, in a message sent the official Robins website. “We couldn't do our job well without the freedoms provided by our wonderful military. Thanks for keeping us safe, and if you need us, we got your back.”

F-15 Flyover