JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
Since the start of Joint Base MDL support efforts to the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City four months ago, more than 3,200 personnel and nearly 1,900 tons of equipment have been processed and moved through the base.
Service members have begun returning from their mission to conquer COVID-19 causing an increased demand for quarantine rooms at Camp JBMDL. This has challenged the 87th Force Support Squadron and the Reception Control Center to adapt and accommodate for communications and food supply procedures for the rising numbers.
“[The tempo has increased] significantly,” said Karen Lamphere, 87th Logistics Readiness Squadron installation deployment officer. “Most functions assigned to or associated with the RCC typically work a 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. work day. Initially, members supporting the RCC were working a 24-hour, two-shift operation. After the initial surge, the majority were assigned to one of two, eight-hour shifts. Now that the demobilization is beginning, there is a potential to return to a 24-hour operation based on airflow timing.”
The RCC is responsible for coordinating Base Support Installation logistics requirements for forces temporarily assigned to Joint Base MDL. Specifically, they coordinate lodging, food, commercial and government ground transportation, airlift, workspace and any other support requirements requested by inbound units. With the influx of personnel and equipment, the RCC team had to step up their game in communicating with other entities.
“With any operation, communication is the key,” said Lamphere. “Early on, we requested liaisons from both the Joint Task Force-Civil Support staff and the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command. We also had direct communications with the Joint Reception Center. Being able to reach out to these entities ensured we were kept up-to-date on any inbound or outbound, personnel and cargo movements.”
Keeping movement a steady and organized flow meant increased tempo and change for other supporting units as well. One of the main parties being the 87th FSS who provide a new meal product called “OTB2GO” to the increasing number of quarantined personnel.
“The primary difference from the time we began supporting quarantined and isolated members to now is the shift from traditional flight kitchen-type box meals to pre-packaged hot food off the serving line from the dining facility,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Eric Lawlor, 87th FSS food service section chief. “It’s essentially equivalent to a commercial or personal meal prep option. Meals are prepared one day in advance, refrigerated, and packaged just before delivery to ensure proper food safety and handling – much like an individual might do at home in which they prepare their weeks’ worth of lunches and dinners in advance and have them staged in their fridge for easy consumption later.”
The change requires the dining facility to produce larger quantities of food that would otherwise already be produced for the dining facility meal periods. The quarantined member receives a product more closely aligned with what they would receive if they had the ability to visit the DFAC themselves.
The flexibility and success service members have shown throughout the process may not have been possible without the installation leadership creating a plan for emergency situations such as COVID-19.
“Planning is everything,” said Lamphere. “Joint Base MDL had the good fortune to have a Reception of Forces chapter written into the Installation Deployment Plan. This chapter was written based on lessons learned during our experiences with the 2012 SUPERSTORM SANDY BSI designation supporting recovery efforts in New York and New Jersey. However, the plan is only a starting point. This experience taught us the need for flexibility, that each contingency will bring with it new challenges and that confronting these challenges is a team effort. Although each Control Center requires a lead, it is the individual experiences, training and gifts of each team member that ensures success.”
During the unique operations COVID-19 has produced, the 87th LRS has taken upon themselves to supply the installation with more than 6,000 face coverings. As the virus rapidly spread throughout the months, Joint Base MDL has taken precautions of mandating and authorizing individuals to wear protective face masks in and out of uniform to prevent further spread and protect as many as possible.
“[The biggest challenge has been] remaining patient as we try to work through this unique situation,” said U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Adam Owens, 87th LRS Material Management sortie sustainment officer. “Supply chains are strained and resources are stretched thin, but we have continued to provide logistical support at the base level and for Joint Task Force operations.”
The 87th FSS members and augmentees, provided from different squadrons throughout the installation, have shown the resiliency and perseverance needed through the constant changes during this unpredictable time.
“Quite frankly, it’s always nice to be a part of something bigger than yourself, this situation has certainly provided that opportunity,” said Lawlor. “Beyond that, though, everything is a learning opportunity – there’s something to be taken from any challenge or circumstance if approached with the right mindset. What we’ve had the ability to test and learn through this process is a better understanding of our organizational capabilities. We’ve been, and continue to be, tested mentally and physically in some ways and that’s helped us learn what we do right, what we can do better, and how we can make better, more effective decisions going forward.”