The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) supported the deployment of coronavirus (COVID-19) diagnostic swab kits to the United States. These swab kits are a critical component of an expanded U.S. pandemic response and “drive-through” testing capabilities recently announced by the President of the United States.
Efforts to coordinate the shipment began on 14 March, when the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) cooperatively pursued a military airlift mission to immediately transport a bulk shipment of COVID-19 diagnostic kits from Copan Diagnostics, a primary supplier for diagnostic swab kits, located in Brescia, Italy, to the United States.
“Working closely with our partners at the DHHS and the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), we were able to build an international air bridge to swiftly and securely supply COVID-19 diagnostic swab kits to the United States,” said Ronald K. Hann, Ph.D., Director of DTRA’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department.
The first air bridge shipment of diagnostic materials consisted of half-a-million swabs and arrived 17 March, at Memphis International Airport. The shipment into Memphis, a commercial cargo hub for FEDEX, allowed the kits to be rapidly distributed nearly the same day around the country thanks to a rapidly developed public-private partnership fostered by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
According to Army Major Jeffrey Froude, mission integrator for the airlift, DTRA was tapped for this mission because of its prior experience coordinating a shipment of bulk Ebola vaccine from Germany to the U.S. during outbreak operations in the Congo in 2019. “DTRA’s collaborations both inside the U.S. government and abroad allowed us to break traditional barriers in bureaucracy and promptly accomplish this mission on behalf of DHHS,” said Froude. He added, “Our team was able to move vital medical supplies from Italy to America in just 55 hours.”
This mission demonstrated DTRA’s agility and commitment to accomplish essential DOD missions in support of our Nation. Eric Nikolai, DTRA’s liaison officer to USTRANSCOM stated, “I’ve been fortunate to watch dozens of projects come together and deliver for the American people, but none of them have come together so quickly, especially for such a complex mission. We worked with three Combatant Commands, more than a dozen Federal Departments, agencies and organizations, and several commercial partners in a matter of hours.”
Delivering vital cargo via air-bridge is not a new concept. Organizing and implementing air-bridge operations in hours rather than days or weeks is complex and laborious. “This endeavor was successful because of unmatched teamwork,” Hann explained. “Responding to a global pandemic requires a whole of government solution. That’s what was achieved here.”