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Going virtual – adapting to the new normal to celebrate success

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nestor Cruz
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Orchestrating this year’s annual awards ceremony presented the unique challenge of putting together a public event during a time of social distancing.

944th Fighter Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen came together to plan what is normally a major social event for the unit, while keeping health safety measures in mind.

“We are very proud of our members’ accomplishments and we were not going to let the COVID-19 pandemic and the imposed limitations stop us from recognizing our Airmen,” said Col. Jim Greenwald, 944th Fighter Wing commander. “We had to find a way to recognize our outstanding Airmen and the best way, it turned out, was through virtual means.”

The 944th Mission Support Group was the lead for this year’s annual awards ceremony and they hit the ground running. They began planning for a normal banquet, but along the way the plan kept evolving based on the coronavirus transmission rates.

“As COVID-19 cases spread and went up again, the plan had to adjust,” said Capt. Kayla Hooser, 944th MSG executive officer and lead planner for this year’s annual awards ceremony. “Since our Geographically Separated Units couldn’t travel to be part of the event, and gathering in a large group wasn’t an option, the wing commander determined the best course was to do this in a virtual manner.”

Hooser teamed up with the 944th FW Public Affairs office and other Reserve Citizen Airmen in the wing to brainstorm and plan the virtual event. The planning team considered various social distancing options such as live streaming and video conferencing.

“We were looking for ways to convey the awards ceremony,” said Capt. Monique Roux, 944th FW Public Affairs chief. “We looked at trying video switching and cutting to live feeds at other locations which was our goal originally, but that presented other limitations we weren’t prepared for.”

Other issues presented themselves as the planning team continued to explore options.

“Our biggest concern was to make sure we recognized our Airmen properly and eliminated as many technological issues as possible,” said Roux. “If we chose to use live feeds at all ten locations we planned to broadcast from, we would have dealt with audio feedback most locations, and a lot of moving parts as we switched around. Additionally, with units across the base and the country trying to live stream the event, they would have experienced buffering and connection issues, and the last thing we wanted was for the celebration of our Airmen to be interrupted by technical problems.”

After working through all of the options, the planning team determined that the best solution was to produce a fully prerecorded ceremony.

“We were fortunate to find a member in our communications flight, Senior Airman Jed Morgan, who has incredible skills and is self-taught in film making,” Hooser shared. “He volunteered to help and was the main editor on this project, bringing with him great vision and ideas. It was because of his input and his experience that the award ceremony presentation was top-notch.”

The opportunity to work on such a high-visibility project made a big impression on Senior Airman Morgan.

“I practiced new skills, made new contacts, and found a way to make an impact on the wing as a whole,” said Senior Airman Jed Morgan, 944th Force Support Squadron client systems technician. “This opportunity gave me a greater sense of purpose for the role I have now.”

The 2020 Annual Awards Ceremony was aired online during the February Unit Training Assembly as a sports broadcast-themed show. Airmen cheered as nominees from their respective units were announced, “sponsored by” various units across the wing.

“We tried to find ways to still bring the same level of significance these awards deserve even though we had to adapt to a new environment,” said Hooser. “The team worked through numerous courses of action to find the best solution to celebrate the annual award nominees and winners in this unprecedented time.”

Greenwald expressed his feelings about the presentation and all the hard work that went into it.

“I’m extremely proud of our planning team’s determination to deliver an engaging event that was focused on the Airmen,” he said. “This speaks to the resilience we have as a unit, that we can take any challenge and turn it into a positive for us; that we weren’t going to let a pandemic and social distancing take away the opportunity to do the right thing by recognizing the members of this wing.”