WASHINGTON -- The Air Force's Air Mobility Command (AMC) is preparing for a ninth flight next week that will bring coronavirus testing swabs from Italy to Memphis, Tenn., for distribution across the United States, a top Air Force official said.
"AMC routinely responds to emergent airlift requirements and in coordination with our interagency and international partners, AMC has been flying COVID-19 testing swabs from Italy to Memphis for nationwide distribution," said Lt. Gen. Jon T. Thomas during a telephone press briefing today. "Since March 16, C-17s have delivered three and a half million swabs on seven missions, with the seventh mission arriving last night in Memphis, Tennessee."
The eighth mission is scheduled for arrival in Memphis today, he said, bringing another half-million swabs.
AMC will continue to fly those missions as long as the command is tasked to do so by U.S. Transportation Command, Thomas said.
Medical supplies aren't the only thing AMC is transporting, Thomas said. 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. "These resubmissions bring the total number of Americans returned by AMC gray-tail organic airlift missions to more than 350 since March 19."
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."
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.
Thomas said AMC has a variety of missions that are all influenced by local conditions and situations. 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."