TRACY, Calif. — Fernando González-Rodríguez and Eduardo Barraza-Cardenas weren’t sure exactly what they would find, but they came with the right tools to get the job done.
The two expert medical maintenance technicians from the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency deployed to Iraq in September to help troubleshoot and repair complex medical equipment, restoring operability for medical units on the ground and boosting overall readiness.
It’s a common refrain for members of USAMMA’s Forward Repair Activity-Medical, or FRA-M, team, which is comprised of the organization’s top technicians who can provide professional capabilities directly to Soldiers in the field.
FRA-M abilities include on-site calibration procedures, repair assistance, troubleshooting tips, training and support for any other maintenance-related questions units may have.
“This increases the up-time on devices that may otherwise go down, which ultimately increases unit readiness throughout the world,” said Isaac Newman, director of USAMMA’s Medical Maintenance Operations Depot in Tracy, California. “If the Soldier didn’t have someone to ask when they get stumped in the field, the medical unit would oftentimes be without the use of critical care items as they waited for a replacement to arrive.”
USAMMA, a direct reporting unit to Army Medical Logistics Command, operates three Medical Maintenance Operations Depots, known as MMODs. They are located in Pennsylvania, Utah and California, with each specializing in specific types of medical equipment and support.
In the case of MMOD-Tracy, where González-Rodríguez and Barraza-Cardenas are based, that expertise is in radiological and imaging equipment — just what was needed by two separate hospital facilities in Iraq dealing with equipment breakdowns.
González-Rodríguez, lead electronic technician, and Barraza-Cardenas, a biomedical equipment technician, provided maintenance support for a Role 2 hospital at Erbil Air Base, as well as to a Role 3 facility at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, or BDSC.
A Role 2 facility provides immediate trauma care of casualties, as well as laboratory and X-ray services. Role 3 hospitals include more bed space for patients, with intensive care and post-operative care wards and specialty diagnostics.
During the nine-day mission, the FRA-M team first visited EAB to troubleshoot and repair a computed tomography, or CT, machine, which had been out of service since March.
Barraza-Cardenas said they pinpointed the problem to a power supply issue for the complex device’s computer servers and repairs were necessary to bring the machine back online. The MMOD-Tracy team brought along additional repair parts that the Navy unit overseeing the hospital had trouble acquiring through their established supply channels.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Haniff Chrouch, a biomedical technician at the expeditionary medical unit operating out of EAB, said the unit had ordered the needed replacement parts for the repair, but it would have taken three to six months to arrive, further jeopardizing readiness levels.
“The FRA-M team was definitely helpful, professional and knowledgeable,” he said. “… The CT repair increases our mission capabilities by assisting us in the proper diagnosis and triage of patients.”
While supporting the 11th Field Hospital at the BDSC, the team assessed and provided maintenance on other imaging and radiology systems, such as X-ray machines, an imaging reader and another CT scanner. They also provided hands-on training for technicians on the ground and necessary test, measurement and diagnostic equipment, or TMDE, needed to verify that their devices remain in working order.
Maj. Andrew DeStefano, officer-in-charge for logistics for the medical task force supporting deployed joint forces at the BDSC during Operation Inherent Resolve, said the CT scanner that the FRA-M team serviced there was the only Department of Defense scanner in the area.
“Efforts at the field-level were unsuccessful in bringing it back online,” DeStefano said. “It was clear that the assistance from the FRA-M team out of MMOD-Tracy would be needed.”
DeStefano added that having an operational CT machine reduces the need to conduct medical evacuations out of theater to provide a definitive diagnosis for coalition forces.
“It is vital that medical elements in the [combined joint operations area] have sustainment-level support to reach out to when needed to maintain medical readiness in this theater of operations,” he said.
When a medical device breaks down, the replacement or repair process can be rather lengthy in a deployed environment, depending largely on repair part availability and shipping parameters.
With the FRA-M team’s expertise and experience, repairs can often be completed through a single deployment. They also provide a constant line of communication to expert medical sustainers who can provide training and help through virtual channels.
Newman said the expert technicians at all three MMODs are “truly second to none in their skill level, professionalism and expertise.”
“Time and time again, they have been called throughout the world to successfully repair complex and highly technical items of medical equipment that have left many lost and scratching their heads on what to do,” he said. “Their ability to mobilize as emergency essential technicians, when called to support the mission, with zero hesitation and a level of zeal that is special to this group of technicians is absolutely amazing.”