349th OSS reservist crosses the pond

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  • By 349th Public Affairs Staff
  • 349th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Senior Master Sgt. Rhonda Rooney received notification in October 2021 she was selected as an alternate for the Military Reserve Exchange Program. Rooney didn’t really think it would work out for her. But two months later in December, the 349th Operations Security Squadron first sergeant received an unexpected message. It was a request from the Chief of Air Force Reserve inquiring if she was still interested in becoming a primary candidate.

 “I was super excited to receive an email from the Pentagon asking me if I would like to be a primary candidate and actually perform the MREP,” said Rooney.  This unique training gives reservists the opportunity to work with reserve forces in Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark, and Estonia.  

MREP aims to broaden the member’s professional development and knowledge about the host country’s reserve program. The member is assigned to the destination country when placed on a selection roster.    

“For me, this is a great opportunity to share with our Airmen, the experiences and the exposure of different life skills, and how you learn to create international relationships,” said Rooney.

Rooney arrived in England on July 31, 2022, for a two week stay at the English Royal Auxiliary Air Force Brize Norton, England.  During her visit, Royal Air Force Cpl. Graham B. Bufton served as her MREP nation partner. Bufton serves as a movement specialist with the 4624th Air Movement Squadron at RAF Brize Norton. He introduced Rooney to several base organizations and their primary functions.

This is a wonderful way to learn about the RAF,” said Rooney. “They have a tendency to multitask their career fields. The RAF reservists actually handle entire processes from deployment beginning to the deployment endpoint.” 
Senior Master Sgt. Rhonda Rooney

“This is a wonderful way to learn about the RAF,” said Rooney.  “They have a tendency to multitask their career fields. The RAF reservists actually handle entire processes from deployment beginning to the deployment endpoint.” 

On her orientation tour, Bufton took Rooney to a place called “The Hive,” where pre-deployment preparations are set up for the families.

“In here, the families mingle and talk about problems they have and want to solve. Some of them lack funds for travel or need transportation and there are also marital counselors available for those matters too,” said Bufton.

 Rooney was impressed with the setups at the base. It was a highlight for her on the tour. The two reservists shared ideas on operational support, and discussed actions they could take to create better outcomes for their respective squadrons.

Bufton also expressed the differences he observed between his mission with the RAF and Rooney’s squadron.

“She is from an unrelated section of the Air Force compared to what I do,” said Bufton. “It was quite interesting to see how the American reservists look after their people compared to how the RAF reserves look after our people.”   

 The MREP agenda included an airshow within driving distance of the base. They toured a variety of international aircraft on display.

“This was such a great opportunity to expand upon the experience and share with our members the commonalities in the different branches of service and how they work best together,” said Rooney.

When Rooney returned to Travis AFB, it was her turn to be the host for Bufton and take him on tour of the reserve and active duty units on the base. Some stops were the 349th Operations Group, 349th Operations Support Squadron, 60th Operations Group and the 60th Medical Group.  

 According to Rooney, Bufton was thrilled to finally arrive and get focused on the exchange program schedule, which happened to coincide with the 349th drill weekend.

 Rooney completed Bufton’s final week with stops at several military units to observe remote piloted aircraft, explosive ordinance demonstrations and military working dogs in action. It concluded with some California cultural immersion stops and visits to some local historical sites.

As the RAF reservist was winding down his schedule to return to the U.K., Bufton said, “It seems like both of our organizations are going in the right direction as one force, one unit, and we are working for the defense of your country and the defense of our country.”

The reservists encourage those who have an interest in the program to apply. The best source of information for MREP is on myPers. The Enlisted Development Education Board or EDEDB is for enlisted MREP candidates. The school board is held once per year in June.

The Reserve School Selection Board or RSSB is for officer MREP candidates. These school boards are help twice per year in February and July.

For questions relating to the EDEDB or RSSB process, questions can be addressed by calling the Total Force Service Center (TFSC) at 1-800-525-0102.

 For application process, contact Maj. Paul Hizon, chief of AFR personnel at paul.hizon.2@us.af.mil or Maj. Elizabeth Wszalek, chief of project management at Elizabeth.wszalek.1@us.af.mil