Air Force medics keep Patriot Express travelers safe amid COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christopher Quail
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
On November 1, 2020, U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command implemented mandatory rapid, on-site testing for military and civilian passengers traveling aboard Patriot Express flights departing from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport as well as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Washington. Additionally, all Patriot Express travelers must complete a COVID-19 screening pre-travel questionnaire and complete an on-site temperature check. Based on destination requirements and the number of passengers who already have a valid COVID-19 test, nearly 40-90% of passengers are tested prior to departure.

Patriot Express flights are operated by commercial airlines contracted by the Department of Defense to provide transportation for military members, dependents and civil service employees on official travel, such as those who are deploying or moving to overseas duty locations.

Following USTRANSCOM and AMC guidance, a team consisting of medical, laboratory, services, logistics and other support Airmen from numerous Air Mobility Command bases were assembled and assigned to support those flights departing BWI. Due to its proximity, Dover Air Force Base assumed responsibility for the operation and mobilized seven medical and logistics Airmen to support the BWI Patriot Express mission. A daunting, unprecedented task for the collective 18-member team that required ground-level ingenuity to define this new testing-to-isolation process.

“Traditionally, setting up a testing laboratory would take months,” said Master Sgt. Robert Murray, BWI COVID-19 testing center laboratory consultant. “Astonishingly, the team was able to do it in just two weeks.”

In accordance with federal and state guidelines, the Patriot Express medical support team uses U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved molecular tests to identify the presence of the coronavirus in conjunction with questionnaires. This screening method addresses wide-ranging testing requirements from force providers and geographic combatant commanders and mitigates the spread of COVID-19 among service members, families and international partners. This mission’s success is dependent on AMC Airmen.

“Our Mobility Airmen at Dover have proven critical to the continued success of full-spectrum mobility operations during our fight against COVID-19,” said Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, Air Mobility Command commander. “Thanks to their efforts and leadership, AMC continues to help USTRANSCOM safely and effectively project the joint force across the globe to ensure national security requirements are met.”  

Depending on the severity of symptoms, travelers who test positive are either referred to a local medical treatment facility or transported to a contracted, lodging facility for isolation. To increase delayed travelers’ comfort and limit contact with lodging staff, a small team of Dover Airmen provide around-the-clock support for isolated individuals and their families.

“We do our best in making sure military members and families are comfortable when arriving at lodging,” said 1st Lt. Morgan Prestridge, 436th Mission Support Group executive officer. “Most of our guests are extremely grateful for the services we’ve been able to provide for them. I’ve received a lot of thank-you emails and positive feedback from leaders of other branches.”

Since November 2020, the in-place Patriot Express support cell has supported 60 joint-force travelers who tested positive for COVID-19 at BWI. Prestridge attributes the success of the in-place to team to the continuous support from home-station units.

“We’ve had to create policy and protocol as we go and I can’t thank my teammates [enough] from the [communication squadron, force support squadron, logistics readiness squadron, contracting squadron, aerial port squadron and medical group],” said Prestridge. “We really pulled together as a wing and made it happen.”

While the world continues the fight against COVID-19, Dover Air Force Base continues to project the joint force to include service members and their families transiting through the BWI Patriot Express aerial port.

“The health and safety of our Airmen, their families and our international partners are paramount,” said Col. Matthew Jones, 436th Airlift Wing commander. “In partnership with Total Force Airmen from across AMC, we will continue to enable the Patriot Express mission while protecting the nation and our global partners from this pandemic. I’m exceptionally proud of Team Dover and their unwavering support of this mission.”