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Air Force master ordering facility streamlines medical supply process

Image of Military member in warehouse, packing a large box. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brison King, non-commissioned officer in charge, Warehouse Operations, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, packs critical lab supplies at Port San Antonio, Texas, August 24, 2020. (Courtesy Photo)

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In early April, as the SARS-CoV-2 virus and associated COVID-19 disease was spreading across the nation, the U.S. Air Force stood up its first master ordering facility to streamline supply processes at Port San Antonio, Texas.

Since then, the Air Force has been working with civilian partners and sister services to ensure personal protective equipment and other pandemic-related supplies are delivered wherever they are most needed, whether to military treatment facilities or civilian hospitals.

“Medical logistics personnel are in unprecedented times due to the pandemic,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Justin Steidler, Air Force medical logistics industrial operations superintendent, Air Force Medical Readiness Agency. “We had to get creative to quickly set up a flexible and responsive system to process and prioritize orders, ensuring supplies were delivered where they were needed. We are based in Texas and we are able to resupply across the country.”

In the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Air Force medical logistics personnel ensured all Department of Defense military treatment facilities had personal protective equipment, while also fulfilling DoD ventilator requests to support the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The Secretary of Defense had requested ventilators from each of the services in direct support of the Department of Health and Human Services,” said Air Force Col. Charles Marek, operational medical logistics chief. “We coordinated with personnel from the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, the 711th Human Performance Wing at the Air Force Research Lab, Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command to get all available ventilators. We then consolidated them in two locations – Port San Antonio and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio – for staging and to be ready when and where they are needed.”

Biomedical equipment technicians handled the maintenance of the medical equipment, including the ventilators and oxygen-producing equipment.

“Our biomedical equipment technicians dealt with the expedited maintenance of ventilators sitting in consolidated storage locations at military treatment facilities, and the maintenance of ventilators at the 711th Human Performance Wing,” said Marek.

Now, medical logistics personnel are working with Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces to ensure service members deployed to civilian hospitals where COVID-19 cases have been rising have the necessary personal protective equipment to accomplish the mission.

“The Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force is a patchwork of teams that have been deployed to COVID-19 hotspots,” said Steidler. “These teams have required resupply support by our team at Port San Antonio.”

“We supported reserve units that were called up to support the COVID-19 effort, but who were not attached to active duty military treatment facilities, so they didn’t have the personal protective equipment to deploy and assist those civilian hospitals and clinics,” said Marek. “We were able to pull from on-hand stock so they could deploy with the critical supplies and equipment.”

To date, the Air Force master ordering facility in Port San Antonio has supported 26 Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces embedded in 24 civilian hospitals.

According to Air Force Lt. Col. Jocelyn Whalen, Air Force medical logistics industrial operations chief with the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, ensuring military treatment facilities and civilian hospitals have the crucial supplies they need involves more than just one team.

“We have to work across the services and across systems to ensure supplies get to where they are needed on time,” said Whalen. “Our work in the U.S. has required partnering with the Army and Navy, as well as civilian organizations housing our embedded medics. None of the efforts would be possible without a team approach to developing efficient solutions.”

Air Force medical logistics personnel continue to play a critical role supporting the nation.

“When we think of readiness, we tend to focus on the personnel and their training,” said Steidler. “But readiness also means having the right stuff in the right place at the right time. With COVID-19, it has challenged that in every way. The medical logistics community has shined through, and even in the most complex resupply operations, we make sure you have what you need when you need it.”

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