The senior enlisted leader of U.S. Transportation Command visited Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to see the newest testing the Defense Department is conducting to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 from personnel traveling from the United States to overseas duty stations and on deployments.
Starting Nov.1, the DOD military medical professionals at BWI and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport began administering rapid, on-site COVID-19 tests to service members, civilians, contractors and family members prior to boarding Patriot Express flights destined for overseas locations.
"As the command senior enlisted leader, I want to make sure we are transporting passengers in the safest, most efficient manner possible and to make sure we are doing all we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jason France, senior enlisted leader of U.S. Transportation Command. "The implementation of this on-site testing here will also help the Defense Department establish a common baseline of testing for our service members, civilians and their families traveling to overseas duty locations."
All Patriot Express travelers are screened for symptoms of COVID-19 by completing a pre-travel questionnaire and on-site temperature check. Approximately 10-15 percent of the passengers who are not exhibiting symptoms are subject to a rapid, on-site laboratory test prior to travel. This percentage is part of the proof of principle, or prototype, which helps determine whether this testing method is feasible in preventing the spread of the virus.
Rapid, on-site testing will help establish, as much as possible, a COVID-free aircraft of DOD military, civilian and family members traveling overseas. At BWI, France observed how the tests were being administered and talked with the DOD medical professionals conducting the tests as well as personnel traveling out of the country.
"I'd also like to send a special thanks to the Mobility [Command] airmen who provide the screening, on-site testing, lab analysis and any follow-on care in support of our Patriot Express mission. These airmen are making a difference on a global scale; ensuring the readiness and lethality of the geographic combatant commands and allowing them to get the mission done," he said.
The proof of principle is taking place through Nov. 30, at which time Air Mobility Command will advise Transcom on analysis of testing data and feasibility of testing on a larger scale. The priority, though, will continue to be the health of the DOD community, their families and host countries.
France said he was impressed by the professionalism of the team of medical personnel working at BWI and he's confident their efforts will mitigate risks associated with overseas travel.
"I was glad to be able to personally visit our BWI team, and I know the team at SEATAC is doing equally inspiring work," France said after his visit. "I'm thankful to both BWI and SEATAC for their cooperation accommodating the DOD and our military families in this challenging era."
He added, "While these tests ensure we continue completing our missions in this COVID environment, this is just one step in taking care of our service members and families, civilians and contractors. It also helps us maintain the trust and confidence of our allies and partners abroad."