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Incirlik behind the scenes: Scalpel, forceps, gauze! Medical Logistics supplies medics

U.S. Air Force Maj. Crystal Karahan, 39th Medical Support Squadron Medical Logistics flight commander, checks the shelf labels in the medical supply storeroom at the base clinic.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Crystal Karahan, 39th Medical Support Squadron Medical Logistics flight commander, discusses the process of keeping sufficient on-hand supplies at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Aug. 19, 2020. Medical Logistics Airmen can’t rush order supplies like their civilian counterparts can, so they plan ahead to understand the best amount of supplies to keep on hand to reduce potential waste and maintain patient care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Lackey)

“Medical Logistics is a highly sensitive environment where timing matters immensely.”

Maj. Crystal Karahan, 39th Medical Support Squadron Medical Logistics flight commander, didn’t mince words when explaining how a rarely seen part of Incirlik Air Base functions and plays a mission critical role in daily operations.

“There’s a lot of moving parts in the medical group serving to ensure the optimal care of our patients' needs … and it all starts here in logistics, with our Airmen making care possible,” Karahan said.

The 39th Medical Group is a world all on its own, with a unique mission and specialties vital to the continuation of Incirlik Air Base’s mission of providing allied support to NATO’s Southern flank. Highly proficient specialists help keep Airmen fighting fit through routine care, injury recovery and mental support and recovery.

Yet these practitioners would have no way to administer care without one crucial department’s hard work. The Medical Logistics Flight has a wide mission touching upon acquisitions, procurement and contracting, equipment repair and maintenance, facility upkeep and quality control for all of the 39th MDG.

“Anything that comes into the clinic, comes through logistics. We’re the first-stop shop for the clinic,” said Staff Sgt. Samuel Wonsettler, 39th MSS Medical Logistics Flight acquisitions NCO in-charge. “Whether its supplies for working on the building, fulfilling medical prescription orders for the pharmacy, all the medical and non-medical supplies plus the equipment they use … we have our hand on all of it.”

Teamwork is a vital component of Air Force operations both on base and in a deployed forward positions where timely supplies can make or break a military effort. To this end, Medical Logistics Airmen also commit to training with other areas to ensure they can do the same job anywhere, such as with the 39th Logistics Readiness Squadron to learn cargo preparation on Aug. 19th, 2020.

“We recently trained with LRS to certify on how to do a ‘cargo pallet build-up’ and ‘hazardous cargo function’ for sending supplies downrange,” Wonsettler said. “You need to have hazard declarations, load and packing lists. There’s coordination with the cargo loaders, flight operations and the medical logistics Airmen downrange; [learning] how to put on a net correctly, inspect a aircraft pallet, load balance and weight distribution and accommodating for different aircraft sizes and shapes.”

Not all installations have the ability to ship items reliably via a commercial service like their civilian counterparts, so mutual understanding of respective functions and needs between the air transport function and medical communities is essential.

“Working hand-in-hand with LRS has helped us learn to do this ourselves and freed them to focus elsewhere,” Wonsettler said. “Doing this right will get forces set up and running as soon as possible so we don’t lose time, money or lives. This kind of coordination lets us unload refrigerated items as soon as the plane lands, wheels still hot, because they contact us right away.”

Health care supplies can range from bandages to perishable medicines or blood and many have to be packed carefully to not be damaged or expire during transport.

“We set aside at least one day a month to do training,” Karahan said. “It’s not time to sit back and talk about it. We’re out there gaining and garnering skills from our partners on base, reaching out and seeking those opportunities so we’re ready for global readiness missions.”

Medical Logistics Airmen differentiate themselves by maintaining a comprehensive understanding of supply chain management due to the need for having eyes on all the moving parts of the process. They must know lead times, internal and external customer needs, and forward logistics know-how to be able to take care of client needs in a timely manner.

“Our ultimate goal is to facilitate the best possible quality of care for our customers,” Karahan said. “Customer service is very important to us, we work to develop a rapport with everyone and be approachable, because if people know who we are and what we can do for them then we can deliver even better care for our clients, Airmen or otherwise.”

The goal of all Airmen is to train like they fight, but for these warriors, it’s all about going above and beyond to get the job done. While most may not see work Medical Logistics Airmen do for the base, their efforts underpin everything that supports the health and well-being of a fighting fit force of ready to deploy Airmen.

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