NEWPORT, R.I. –
The Defense Logistics Agency partnered with Air Force and Navy medical staffs in late June and early July to support COVID-19 screening at naval medical facilities in the Northeast.
When the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command New England needed better spaces for COVID-19 screening and testing, it appeared the staff might have to buy portable shelters commercially.
“The demand for testing has skyrocketed as the Defense Department’s response to COVID-19 has evolved,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy Biehn, NMRTC director for administration. Biehn said they borrowed tents and decontamination assets to address the testing demand, but the equipment was not suited for long-term use or New England’s severe weather conditions.
“From the onset of our COVID-19 response operations, we immediately began researching durable, sustainable, and mobile structures that could quickly be deployed to conduct screening, testing and eventually vaccine distribution operations,” Biehn said.
While searching for better shelters, he learned of five excess portable structures in Charleston, South Carolina, known as Alaska Medical Shelters, owned by the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency.
“The market is full of options, but in the middle of the pandemic, all options were delayed,” Biehn said. “Finding the shelters through AFMRA … was a huge win.”
Robert Sloan, a DLA Disposition Services property disposal specialist, helped transfer ownership of the shelters from AFMRA to the Navy.
“Since our first conversation, DLA just made it happen,” Biehn said. “Once I explained our situation to him, Mr. Sloan immediately engaged and took the lead to ensure everything behind the scene moved forward without delay. I can’t say enough good things about him and his team in Charleston.”
Air Force Master Sgt. Jolea Snicer, AFMRA’s superintendent for the Charleston Consolidated War Reserve Material Storage and Deployment Center, said the shelters were no longer needed due to modernization. Her employees worked with Sloan to support the Navy’s request and load the shelters for shipping.
“Our team at the Charleston CSDC has and will continue to be mission partners for the COVID-19 response,” Snicer said. “The medical logistics motto is ‘Whatever it takes,’ and that’s exactly what happened.”
Sloan described DLA’s work as a joint effort between DLA Disposition Services staff in Battle Creek, Michigan, and “boots-on-ground here in Charleston.”
The material was loaded for transport June 30 at AFMRA and delivered July 2 to Newport, Rhode Island. Biehn said employees there began assembling the equipment July 7, starting with the Newport site. The shelters will become semi-permanent fixtures supporting testing at NMRTC clinics in Newport; Groton, Connecticut; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
DLA Disposition Services’ reutilization mission is designed to help warfighters and customers from other government agencies avoid spending money for excess usable items. Biehn estimated the Navy saved $100,000 to $125,000 by requisitioning the shelters through DLA Disposition Services instead of buying new items.
A representative from the manufacturer will help NMRTC’s response team identify additional components needed to erect the tents in environments like asphalt and grass fields and with various power sources.
NMRTC New England supports a variety of naval medical platforms in addition to providing expert medical care at Naval Health Clinic New England, which is the health care system for the Navy in the Northeast Region, providing primary and specialty care services to over 70,000 beneficiaries.