ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
On September 11, 2021, we will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our nation. Across the world, people will pause and reflect on where they were when they heard the news, or watched events unfold in real time.
That day was an inflection point in our history, with Reserve Citizen Airmen running toward danger to rescue those trapped at the Pentagon. Their actions were among countless heroic deeds.
None of the Airmen responding on the ground or those taking flight to protect our nation in that moment could foresee how much the events of that day would alter our country, Department of Defense and Air Force Reserve.
On that day and every day since, our fellow Americans have looked to us to continue to stand between them and those who would do them harm.
As an Air Force Reserve, we shifted, sustaining an accelerated operational tempo for two decades. With every challenge, Reserve Citizen Airmen and their families demonstrated exceptional resilience.
Much like 9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic altered our routines and changed the nature of our operations. Carrying on our legacy of standing between a threat and our fellow Americans, so many of you volunteered to support pandemic response operations.
As more people are vaccinated, it continues to become safer to gather together once again. Returning to work or school in person can present challenges. Attempting to restore some sense of normalcy, even while the shadow of the pandemic looms over the recent past, can be taxing on resiliency.
Fortunately, we have spent a great deal of time and energy during the last 18 months to make the Air Force Reserve an even better place to work. First, we have hired 10 full-time chaplains at all of our host installations so that they can work alongside our Airmen to build resilient communities on our installations. Second, we have placed 30 full-time first sergeants at host base installations to serve as focal points for getting Airmen the help they need.
Finally, we have also worked to increase the number of full-time healthcare providers. Using the best practices of online collaboration that we learned during the pandemic combined with increasing provider capacity, we have managed to reduce fitness for duty case processing timelines by 32% over the last year. Not only have our providers decreased wait times for Airmen waiting to get back to serving, they have also been able to take on more complex cases.
In one instance, a pilot was able to return to flying after having his colon removed just nine months after his final surgery. No Air Force pilot had ever returned to service after such an operation. However, thanks to our providers, we were able to keep a talented Airman in a critical career field doing the job he loves.
Similarly, our medical team was able work to restore an Airman with an amputated leg to flying status. He now continues to serve as a loadmaster. Both of these Airmen have broken down barriers for those who come after them.
As we begin to transition from operations responding to the pandemic to operations informed by the pandemic, we will continue pushing to make this next fiscal year better than the previous one.
The Command Chief and I are proud to serve with each of you. ■