March Air Reserve Base commander participates in Operation American Resolve

  • Published
  • By Ms. Linda Welz
  • 452 AMW/PA

Brig. Gen. Melissa Coburn, commander, 452nd Air Mobility Wing, has a special place in her heart for healthcare workers because her sister, Tiffany, works as a physician’s assistant at Winchester Medical Center in West Virginia, and her husband, Ryan, is a registered nurse. So, when the call came out to honor those and other frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19, Coburn didn’t hesitate to volunteer the wing to fly over the Inland Empire and show our appreciation for their tireless efforts during this challenging time.


Knowing how tired her sister was, and the fact that they are 3,000 miles apart, prompted Coburn, a C-17 Globemaster III pilot and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate to reach out to a former classmate and fellow C-17 pilot, Col. Martin Timko, commander, 167th Airlift Wing, W.V. Air National Guard.


“I knew she would really be happy to see one of ‘my’ planes flying over her hospital, even if it wasn’t me flying it,” Coburn said.


It didn’t take much coordination with Timko because he was already interested in his wing’s participation in the flyovers. This outreach synced with his own witnessing of the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels earlier this month with his family as they overflew parts of the National Capital Region, he said.


“I was committed to having the 167th Airlift Wing participate in this effort and Brig. Gen. Coburn’s outreach added another name to the many medical professionals I wanted to pay tribute as they battle COVID-19 daily,” Timko said. “I couldn't have asked for better weather or a more excited crew to make today's flyovers a reality. I am delighted it worked out and was received by our medical heroes so well,” Timko said of his wing’s May 13, 2020 flyovers.


The next day it was Coburn’s turn to honor frontline workers in the Inland Empire, so she buckled into the right seat of the C-17 as instructor pilot and prepared for take-off. Joining her for the mission were Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 729th Airlift Squadron: Maj. Jimmy Nitao and Capts. Joshua Hornberger and Greg Boggs, pilots; and Senior Master Sgts. Elijah Perez and Michael Vo, loadmasters.


“It is nice to recognize and honor our frontline workers in healthcare, law enforcement, fire and rescue, transportation, public works, retail, and all others who are keeping this nation operating during this crisis,” Coburn said. “They support us tremendously so it’s the least we can do.”


As an added bonus to frontline workers, Coburn arranged for one of the wing’s KC-135 Stratotankers to join the flyovers, following the C-17’s path by just a few minutes.


Other than from the 452 AMW, the KC-135 crew members for this joint mission were from the wing’s Reserve and active-associate refueling squadrons, and the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing. Crew members were Maj. Adam Walker, pilot, 336th Air Refueling Squadron; Maj. Christopher Carr, co-pilot, 912 ARS; Capt. Kevin Elardo, safety observer (and pilot), 336 ARS; Master Sgt. Jen Ventress, boom operator, 336 ARS and an emergency room nurse at Loma Linda University Medical Center; Lt. Col. Frances Yang, flight surgeon, 163rd Medical Group and a pediatric hospitalist at Kaiser Permanente; Col. Richard Givens, chaplain, 452 AMW.


“This flight would have not been possible had it not been for Maj. Chris Carr, and Capt. Kevin Elardo,” Walker said. “They had a major part in the planning stages, and Kevin know the route better than anyone else.”


When the time came to execute the mission, Walker’s dad, Joe, drove to the Inland Empire from San Diego just to watch his son’s flyover.


“Oh man, I couldn’t be prouder. This in neat,” Joe said in a TV interview. “They’ve been working on this for a week. This is great! That’s our front-of-the-line right there.”


Both crews successfully completed their flyovers of 19 separate locations in the Inland Empire while performing required training, during the one hour and 30 minutes of flight time they were allotted, before landing safely back at March Field.


“I’m glad we had the opportunity to honor our frontline workers in this manner,” Coburn said. “And I’m thankful for Col. Timko and his wing for making my sister’s day a little brighter with their flyovers.”


Working together these two commanders were able to demonstrate Total Force Integrations as their Reserve Citizen Airmen, active duty Airmen and Citizen Airmen united to accomplish the same mission on separate ends of the country, to honor frontline workers in their respective communities.


“The mighty Air Force is a small community. I appreciated that a fellow ‘Zoomie’ reached out to me about Operation American Resolve expressing that her sister was a physician’s assistant at one of our local hospitals,” Timko said.