News & Politics

The U.S. Air Force Makes a Heroic Coronavirus Airlift Across the Atlantic

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The U.S. Air Force just flew 500,000 coronavirus test swabs from Italy to Tennessee, the Pentagon announced. The shipment is said to be the first of many such flights, as the military pitches in to help with the coronavirus outbreak.

The mission, using a C-17 cargo plane, originated in Aviano, Italy, and landed in Memphis, Tenn., early Tuesday morning.

The test swabs will be assembled with the rest of the COVID-19 test kits and flown across the country, says Air Force Brig. Gen. Dr. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon.

Defense One:

“There’s multiple parts to testing,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Dr. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, said at the same briefing. “The first is the swabs that are used to collect the sample from the individual who’s being tested, then there’s a liquid … that you put the swab into. That’s what composed what we brought over from Italy.”

These types of swabs are made by companies in the U.S. and overseas, he said.

“This is a great example of how nations are working together to ensure that we’re meeting the global demand,” Friedrichs said.

Some lawmakers were asking the president to use the military in the crisis. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a press conference, “We want to be the last resort” when it comes to fighting the pandemic. What the military can do, is ship badly-needed supplies to “hot zones” where COVID-19 has broken out. Defense One:

The Defense Department will immediately release 1 million N95 respirator masks to the Department of Health & Human Services, or HHS, and may eventually provide eventually up to 5 million, Esper said at the Pentagon on Tuesday. The department is also ready to provide some 2,000 room ventilators and is considering activating National Guard and Reserve units to help with the nationwide response.

Exactly what those units would be called to do, however, remains unclear. The secretary urged state and local officials to seek their own solutions first.

“In some ways, we want to be the last resort,” Esper said.

Those supplies will be released by DHS and HHS on an as-needed basis.

There’s a reason the swabs were flown to Memphis.

Gen. Dave Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, confirmed that military cargo planes were moving coronavirus testing kits, but did not give specific details during a Wednesday briefing at the Pentagon. The general acknowledged that “we’ve just made a pretty significant movement into Memphis.”

The mission was flown by a C-17 cargo plane using the call “Reach 911,” which landed early Tuesday morning at Memphis International Airport, a major FedEx hub. Shipping the kits to Memphis allows them to be quickly transferred to commercial aircraft and distributed around the country, according to people familiar with the mission.

Esper was echoing the president when he said there wasn’t that much the military could do during the crisis. But whatever can be done, they will do.