Travis Air Force Base, CA, Airlifts Emergency Medical Supplies to Combat COVID-19 Surge in India

By MR. GARY ELL, STAFF WRITER

Significant progress has been made against COVID-19, but it is still a pandemic. As part of a whole-of-government effort to slow and eventually end the pandemic, the United States sent medical supplies and equipment to India starting on April 28, 2021, as that country battled a devastating outbreak.

Quick thinking and expert problem solving made the difference to allow the flight team to be ready for immediate takeoff as the men and women of the 618th Air Operations Center (AOC), Scott Air Force Base (AFB), IL, rapidly mobilized military aircraft to airlift lifesaving medical supplies to the people of India. The 618 AOC immediately identified a primary and backup aircraft at Travis AFB, CA, and put their assigned crews into crew rest before the cargo arrived on-site to be loaded onto the aircraft to ensure a quick departure.

Once the supplies arrived, local teams moved quickly to palletize and prepare the cargo to be loaded on the aircraft in less than 24 hours by opening an additional security gate that is typically locked so delivery vehicles could drive onto the base and proceed directly to the tarmac without delay.

Additional time was saved when the 618 AOC directed the aircraft to fly the eastern route instead of the typical western flight path from California. An available crew in Djibouti replaced the original flight team while the aircraft was being refueled on the ground to ensure an immediate takeoff. The C-5M Super Galaxy was loaded with oxygen cylinders and regulators, N95 masks, and COVID-19 rapid diagnostic kits. The following day, a C-17 Globemaster III also departed Travis AFB, CA, bound for India, carrying additional oxygen cylinders and diagnostic kits.

The medical supplies were donated to India by the U.S. government through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID leads international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance, and help people progress beyond assistance.

Through a massive mobilization effort, the U.S. government delivered on its commitment to stand with the people of India as they fought a devastating second wave of COVID-19. In less than 1 week, the U.S. government rapidly deployed six planeloads of lifesaving supplies to New Delhi and mobilized its partners in India to increase surge support immediately. The combined

U.S. government assistance to combat the current crisis is approximately $100 million. In addition, the United States is working closely with Indian officials and health experts to identify and respond to emerging trends in this ongoing crisis.

“This is what my troops train for: to represent the United States of America in a humanitarian crisis or a national defense contingency.”

John Buchanan, 60th Aerial Port Squadron Civilian Operations Officer

The generosity of the American people will have significant, lifesaving impacts for critically ill patients battling COVID-19. The six emergency airlifts to India, deployed in only six days, delivered the following:

  • 20,000 courses of Remdesivir (125,000 vials) to help treat critically ill patients.
  • Nearly 1,500 oxygen cylinders to address India’s critical oxygen shortage, which can be repeatedly refilled at local supply centers.
  • Nearly 550 mobile oxygen concentrators that obtain oxygen from ambient air. These units have a lifespan of more than 5 years and can serve multiple patients at once, depending on their oxygen needs.
  • 1 million rapid diagnostic tests to quickly identify COVID-19 cases and prevent community spread.
  • Nearly 2.5 million N95 masks to protect healthcare professionals and other frontline workers.
  • A large-scale Deployable Oxygen Concentration System that can provide oxygen to treat 20 or more patients at a time.
  • 210 pulse oximeters to measure oxygen levels in a patient’s blood to determine whether a higher level of care is needed.

At the request of the Government of India, USAID provided these urgently needed supplies to the Indian Red Cross Society to ensure they reach those in need as quickly as possible.

The six U.S. government shipments were made possible by a USAID-led whole-of-government effort, which included the Department of Defense; Department of State; Department of Health and Human Services; Travis AFB, in partnership with California; National Airlines; and United Airlines.

In addition to the airlifted supplies, USAID immediately allocated funding to purchase locally 1,000 mobile oxygen concentrators to be used in hundreds of primary healthcare facilities to address India’s critical oxygen shortage. USAID also supports the Government of India’s efforts to stand up 150 Pressure Swing Adsorption oxygen generating plants, allowing 150 healthcare facilities to generate oxygen for years to come.

This surge of immediate assistance builds on the United States’ 70-year development partnership with India and USAID’s ongoing response efforts in India since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

USAID will leverage its experience with a range of private-sector partners—from manufacturers to investors, from multinational companies to small- and medium-sized enterprises—to meet the critical needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now, this is the number one mission for Travis [AFB],” said Buchanan. “Thousands and thousands of people need help. It is about the bigger picture.”

“India is a major defense partner to the U.S., and providing assistance is just something partners do,” said John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, during a press briefing in May. “The United States deeply values our partnership with India,” Kirby said. “We are determined to help the people in India as they bravely combat this outbreak.”

During a visit to India in April, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III stressed the importance of the United States’ alliance with India. “As the world faces a global pandemic and growing challenges to an open and stable international system, the U.S. ­India relationship is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Austin said. “And it is clear that the importance of this partnership and its impact [on] the international, rules-based order will only grow in the years ahead.”