Fresno Air National Guard Base, Calif. --
Over 30 Airmen from the 144th Fighter Wing returned, July 14, 2020, from responding to multiple missions across California. It all began, April 9, when Airmen were tasked with providing assistance to the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Silicon Valley, located in San Jose, California. Their work at the Food Bank was part of the California National Guard’s ongoing statewide response mission to the COVID-19 pandemic. On June 9, these Airmen were then tasked with supporting law enforcement agencies to protect life and property during the protests that were occurring across the state.
Lt. Col. Lennie Lujan, 144th Logistics and Readiness Squadron commander, praised the team for their dedication to the mission and their flexibility.
“This team, while already on a mission, transferred to the civil unrest mission immediately and without hesitation,” said Lujan. “Nobody complained. Sure, I saw some frustration at times, but nobody complained, and they were always ready to do what needed to be done.”
Lujan explained that at 8 a.m. on June 9, he received the order to end the Food Bank mission and to report for the civil unrest mission in support of law enforcement. By 10 a.m. on the same day, his team was checked out of their hotel rooms and left San Jose. They then briefly stopped at the Fresno Air National Guard Base to be issued gear and weapons before being sent to their follow-on locations. They were in location and ready to go that evening, demonstrating an exceptional level of readiness.
A few days later, once it was decided that California National Guard assets should to be reduced. The Airmen then returned back to the Food Bank mission in San Jose.
“After everything, the team had been going non-stop for 103 days,” said Lujan. “I am proud of the work they did. They worked hard. They pivoted when the mission changed, and they far exceeded the Food Banks expectations. They packed 4,209,917 pounds of food, which contributed to feeding over a million Californians.”
Master Sgt. Scott Allen, a 144th Logistics Readiness Squadron technician who served with the team, was impressed by the Airmen’s ability to move so quickly from one mission to the next.
“I feel really grateful that I was able to be a part of an amazing team that worked so well together during such an uncertain time,” said Allen.
The original mission was for 31 days, but then it was extended three times. Not all the Airmen on the team were able to deploy for the full 103 days, so they were replaced, but most of the Airmen remained on the mission for the whole time period.
Master Sgt. Paul Martinez, 144th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron 1st Sgt., who also served as the 1st Sgt. for the mission, discussed some of the many challenges that the team faced, which included sorting through hundreds of bins of donated items, setting up a warehouse, facing uncertain time frames, and being away from family members.
“The most challenging part was not knowing when we were going to come home.” said Martinez. “We couldn’t be with our immediate families, so we overcame this by coming together as a family, looking after each other, and having weekly BBQs.”
Martinez also explained how the Airmen persevered and overcame challenges by setting goals and working together.
“We never saw the families that the food helped, but we showed up every day with our own goal and pushed to exceed it,” said Martinez. “We just went one box at a time, one pallet at a time, until lunch or the end of the day. The next day, it was the same thing from the lowest ranking Airmen to the highest ranking Airmen. We all had the same job when it came to the warehouse floor.”
The packing teams would also compete to see which line could pack the most boxes and pallets. They even held competitions with Food Bank staff and volunteers.
“We broke the record during our first day on the line. We packed 28 pallets,” said Lujan. “We now hold the record with 34 pallets packed by a single line.”
Before they left the mission, the Airmen trained a 63-person team from the California Conservation Corp to continue the Food Bank’s work. The 33 Airmen who finished at the food bank were finally ready to return home.
While at the Food Bank of the Silicon Valley, 144th Fighter Wing Airmen packed 4,900 pallets, which equates to 35,700 boxes and 4,209,917 pounds of food.