Air Force to Make 9th Flight to Deliver COVID-19 Testing Swabs to U.S.

By C. Todd Lopez

The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) is preparing for a ninth flight that will bring coronavirus testing swabs from Italy to Memphis, Tennessee, for distribution across the United States, a top Air Force official said.

“AMC has been flying COVID-19 testing swabs from Italy to Memphis for nationwide distribution,” said Lt. Gen. Jon T. Thomas, the Air Mobility Command Deputy Commander, during a telephone press briefing today.

“Since March 16, C-17s have delivered three and a half million swabs on seven missions.”

The seventh mission, which arrived back home on April 2, was piloted by two Memphis-native C-17 pilots, 1st. Lt. Bryan Burns and 1st. Lt. James Conlan. They, along with their 11-man crew delivered hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 swab kits, to be distributed around the country.

“This mission is super important,” Burns said in a 64th Airlift Wing website story. “It’s really awesome to be bringing supplies to my hometown. It brings me back to where I started.”

“I’m really humbled and honored to have the opportunity to be flying these COVID-19 kits from Aviano to Memphis. I’m really excited to be home,” Conlan said in the same story.

Photo credit DoD/Airman 1st Class Tra'Vonna Hawkins

1st Lt. Bryan Burns and 2nd Lt. James Conlan perform final shutdown checks.

Thomas noted the AMC will continue to fly these missions as long as the command is tasked to do so and noted that an eighth mission arrived in Memphis on April 3.

Delivering More than Medical Tests

And medical supplies aren’t the only thing AMC is transporting. While most Americans who are overseas return to the U.S. via commercial aircraft, AMC does have a role there, too — especially for those who are stuck overseas due to coronavirus.

“Recently, and with the approval from the secretary of defense, AMC transported 86 Americans back to the United States from Colombia and Panama,” Thomas said.

Thomas said AMC is also responsible for flying other missions in support of the nationwide effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, he noted, AMC was at least partially responsible for moving gear needed to set up field hospitals on both U.S. coasts.

“AMC C-130s flew equipment and personnel to help establish Army field hospitals in New York and Washington state that will provide additional medical capacity in those areas,” he said.

“We’ve got air mobility liaison officers that are helping to coordinate those movements, as well as commercial air movements totaling nine missions, transporting 7.8 tons of cargo and hundreds of personnel to those locations.”

Photo credit DoD/Airman 1st Class Tra'Vonna Hawkins

An air crew from Travis Air Force Base, California and the 164th Airlift Wing unload COVID-19 testing swabs at the Memphis Air National Guard Base in Memphis.

Dedicated to the Mission and Keeping the Force Healthy

To maintain a global mobility capability, Thomas said AMC has taken steps to ensure the safety and health of personnel — including staff, maintainers and air crew.

Both installation and wing commanders within AMC, he said, have been empowered to take the actions needed to protect their force and the missions required of them.

“It’s really important for everybody to understand how valuable … the secretary of defense’s guidance [is] on allowing local commanders to make decisions on how to best protect the force,” Thomas said.

Some of those actions, he said, include limiting the movement of certain service members, using staggered shifts, telework and implementation of health protection condition Charlie, which means there is sustained community transmission, at all AMC installations. Efforts also include medical screening, temperature checks and other measures for both air crew and passengers.

“Our national response to COVID-19 is an all-hands-on-deck effort, and Air Mobility Command is doing its part to support this fight,” Thomas said.

“Through our active reserve and international guard components, we stand ready to do everything possible to mitigate the effects of the outbreak and ensure we continue to execute rapid global mobility.”

- This story originally appeared on defense.gov. It has been edited and expanded for USO.org.

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