JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
As people around the world worked to adjust to the challenges of working from home, 340th Flying Training Group personnelists quickly adapted and then some, providing mission-critical support to the headquarters and squadrons at seven different installations, as well as modifying processes and implementing improvements to better serve their teammates.
They did have a slight advantage since they routinely provide support for hundreds of Reserve Citizen Airmen across the country, but they still faced a steep learning curve in March when military members around the world were directed to work from home.
According to the new personnel superintendent, Senior Master Sgt. Veronica Pacheco-Pate, reporting to the 340th came with its own set of challenges, and merging her busy team into a successful tele-team took creative effort.
"I could never have predicted what would happen in the short five months I've been in the seat," she said," she said. The timing of it all required an unexpected need to think outside the box and quickly."
Pacheco-Pate had barely begun to develop trust and establish relationships within the personnel team, as well as with headquarters staff and squadrons when teleworking became reality.
"We are definitely resilient together," she said, lauding her team for aggressive efforts to achieve full mission capability in a few short days while expanding plans to streamline and simplify processes.
"For my part, I ensure the health and well-being of the enlisted and civilian members of the team, so they can focus their energy and skill on taking care of our Airmen," she explained.
Humor, patience and constant communication are the keys to success for any team, but they are especially critical now when team members are only able to communicate online or by video call.
Pacheco-Pate knows that her team will thrive if she continues to focus on their needs, so she continues to develop and mentor her members.
"It’s not just about the work. It’s about investing in people," she said. "Together, the MPF team is working to improve our communications, and revisiting all training materials and continuity files so that we can adapt in a way that will best serve our 340th FTG community."
Overcoming a host of obstacles, 340th FTG personnel team divisions are in full triumph mode.
Force Management Division: Although a stop movement order affected all military organizations, the force management team continues to work a host of ongoing actions to care for Reserve Citizen Airmen and the unit. The division is responsible for managing some critical Reserve personnel programs including, but not limited to, gain actions, Active Guard and Reserve extensions, curtailments, tracking AGR continuation decision review boards, unit personnel management roster management, sanctuary zone, retirements and more.
Career Management Division: Whether they're working in the squadron or at their kitchen table, mission planning in a face mask or flying in a helmet, marching basic trainees or developing surge plans, group and squadron Airmen are working. Some things don't stop, even during a health crisis. The career management team is making sure officer promotions, enlisted promotion recommendations, performance evaluations, decoration actions and more continue smoothly.
Force Development Division: One critical way the group retains quality Airmen is through deliberate force development programs and activities, which range from unit training manager guidance and information to formal school opportunities.
Wing Career Advisor: It's a one-deep function but that one Airman is focused on offering the best possible career advice and support for group teammates. During "normal" times and throughout the past few months, the career advisor has continued to offer counseling, explain bonuses, reenlistments, extensions and more. Educated Airmen make educated choices.
Personnel Systems Management, Installation Personnel Readiness and Civilian Personnel Liaison (CPL) Division: With a little of this and a little of that on their plate, the personnel systems, installation personnel readiness and civilian liaison division members have broad responsibilities with significant impact on programs and missions that must continue, even during a pandemic. Accountable for deployment functions, personnel products, role-based administrator/user account management, civilian appraisals and UPC position actions, they're supporting military and civilian teammates from a distance.
Customer Support Division: The customer support division may be limited in available services due to telework challenges, but as they do daily, members are stretching to meet teammates' needs, as well as supporting Airmen outside the unit who would like to be teammates. One critical service offered is helping members update their Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System information. During difficult times, the personnel folks help keep members' stress levels manageable by ensuring families have access to benefits.
"Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a prevailing sense of uncertainty, fear and caution, members' long term plans are changing, and we've seen an uptick in many actions," said Pacheco-Pate.
So, how are Reserve Citizen Airmen reacting to the challenges they face? With AGR tour extension requests, canceling separations and transitions to other statuses, requests for enlistment and reenlistment extensions, and more. At the command level, bonus delays, promotion board actions and formal training impact are also affecting members' decisions.
"Our team specializes in personnel processes and actions, but we don't function in a stovepipe, and as human beings, we are concerned for more than the paperwork required in personnel management," Pacheco Pate explained. "So, while we may be unable to change the situation our folks find themselves in, we can – and do – listen, sympathize, talk it out, and in general be good wingmen for our teammates, and that's the most powerful lesson we've learned during the past few months. People need to talk it out, and we need to be here for each other."