FORT DETRICK, Md. -- Department of the Army Civilians and contractors provide a crucial support mechanism to medical logistics forces when they deploy, assisting Soldiers wherever the fight may take them.
The mission often requires civilian members of U.S. Army Medical Logistics Command to embark on temporary duty, or TDY, assignments throughout the country and abroad. Missions range from preparation and planning, training support prior to a unit’s deployment, medical maintenance to sustain vital pieces of equipment and more.
“Our work is critical,” said Chris Marshall, chief of the Army Prepositioned Stocks, or APS, and Unit Deployment Packages programs for the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, a direct reporting unit to AMLC.
“We do whatever it takes,” he said. “… A lot of times you’re just kind of our there by yourself and you find a way to make it work.”
The civilian workforce at AMLC provides not only strategic planning support, but also on-the-ground training for MEDLOG Soldiers and direct medical maintenance support, two major drivers that ensure a high level of readiness when unit’s go into the field.
George Takacs, an experienced biomedical equipment technician working out of USAMMA’s Medical Maintenance Operations Division at Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, has gone TDY on many occasions over his 19 years of federal civil service, including to many sites outside the continental U.S., or OCONUS.
“I have been to nearly all USAMMA OCONUS sites to include Japan, Korea and Qatar,” he said. “I have been TDY on average about 40% every year of my federal career. I’m always willing to support global medical readiness.”
Medical maintainers, like Takacs and Amy Polifko, quickly and efficiently provide reliable calibration and maintenance support for medical devices used on patients in an operational environment.
“When a Soldier opens a piece of equipment to use on a patient, it needs to work,” said Polifko, an electronics technician also based out of MMOD-Tobyhanna. “… Our entire workforce at Tobyhanna helps with readiness in so many ways. It doesn’t matter if you’re an equipment tech or supply tech -- all of their work helps the mission.”
Prior to a deployment, civilians also play a key role in planning and training Soldiers to prepare for “whatever lies ahead,” from a large-scale training exercise or a real-world contingency.
Jeff Moyer, a program analyst for AMLC’s G-5 (Planning), recently traveled to Romania to participate in a planning conference for next year’s Defender-Europe 2023 training exercise, an annual Army-led, multinational joint exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between U.S., NATO and partner militaries.
Moyer said much of his involvement in planning revolves around tracking medical APS needs of different units and laying the groundwork for a smooth operation.
“My goal is to make that process as seamless as possible, so that we can enable the warfighter to complete their training objectives,” he said.
Additionally, face-to-face interaction with planners from other Army commodities, such as food and munitions, goes a long way to benefit the overall medical enterprise. Moyer said he strives to ensure medical readiness is understood and valued as much as other types of supply.
“You can’t just sit idly by or you’ll get overlooked,” he said. “It’s about injecting yourself into that planning process, ensuring Class VIII (medical materiel) is understood -- how to get it, how to replenish it. Those are all things that you don’t really think about until you need it.
“Somebody can be bleeding out and their life is in jeopardy,” Moyer emphasized. “It’s about making sure those U.S. Forces Command units and others understand that they can’t forget about medical. At the end of the day, it could be someone’s life, limb or eyesight on the line.”
Another major part of a ready force is making sure Soldiers are properly trained to carry out their mission. That’s where USAMMA’s Business Support Office, or BSO, comes into play.
The BSO provides training, including on-site, hands-on support, on the use of medical materiel supply systems to ensure active-duty, reserve and National Guard units know how to properly catalog, track and order medical equipment and supply when in the field.
“We work with every medical logistics company that is tapped to deploy, helping them navigate all the preparation wickets so they arrive on location confident, knowledgeable and ready to support their customers,” said Peg Garguilo, Defense Medical Logistics-Enterprise Solution, or DML-ES, SAP training lead for the BSO. “We focus on all aspects of medical logistics in the system to include ordering, receiving, shipping and storing Class VIII materiel.”
In October, members of the training team were on site with an active-duty unit out of Fort Carson, Colorado, to support its upcoming deployment.
For each training event, the BSO team prepares months in advance with unit leadership to gather requirements, craft a delivery plan and carry out support for what's called a culminating training event as the Soldiers prepare to deploy, Garguilo said.
The event requires BSO trainers to arrive early to setup the training environment, provide refresher training and guide hands-on mock warehouse activities that have to be correlated within the DML-ES system.
Over the past two-plus years, the BSO team has embraced more virtual and hybrid training techniques, Garguilo said, but the value of in-person interaction during training scenarios is “irreplaceable.”
Properly trained Soldiers save time, money and, ultimately, lives in a deployed environment, she added.
“If you have someone downrange and they’re in need of critical supplies, and you don’t know how to get that for them, it’s a life-or-death situation,” Garguilo said. “Bottom line.”
In line with AMLC’s motto of “Prepare, Deploy, Sustain,” the dedicated team of civilians and contractors -- many of them former military -- stand behind Soldiers and provide valuable experience, expertise, and, in many cases most importantly, continuity of operations.
“Army civilians tend to stay and finish out their careers with the Army,” said William Wall, chief of operations at MMOD-Tobyhanna. “This ensures that their experiences and knowledge stay with the Army. This continuity almost always guarantees a smooth transition and directly impacts mission readiness.”
Soldiers “come in and out, they rotate through,” Moyer added, “but it’s kind of like we’re the glue that holds it all together.”