Implementing AFFORGEN: labs

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zachary Foster
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing, Public Affairs

Why do deployers need to give blood? According to Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan Moore, 6th Medical Support Squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of shipping, blood tells a story.

Blood carries markers for an array of genetic and contagious diseases. For deployers, the baseline test is designed for two purposes: detecting HIV and storing a reserve sample as a part of the Department of Defense Serum Repository.

While HIV is uncommon among service members, the Air Force requires routine tests prior to and following a deployment to proactively combat the disease.

“With HIV, if you can test for it you should,” explained Moore. “In the 1980s the program started because HIV was a real concern if contracted. Now, we keep the test because it’s very manageable when treated, especially if caught early.”

Alongside the HIV test is a sample for the DoD Serum Repository, a collection of more than 74 million blood-derived serums stored at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The collection serves to continually grow the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division’s (AFHSD) database, allowing for an informed view of operational capabilities across all deployed locations.

“The repository started with HIV testing in the 1980s and has developed into a great healthcare resource,” said Moore. “All blood is stored in large freezers and can be requested by doctors and used for research studies.”

HIV and repository samples are just the start for service members on track to deploy. According to Moore, certain career fields require additional tests to track mission related impact on the health of Airmen.

Careers like sheet metal technicians require testing for certain heavy metals to ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) is properly defending Airmen from hazardous conditions, Moore explained. These tests also serve to address health-related issues on the homefront instead of the potentially degraded or improvised systems in contested environments.

In order to conduct these tests, laboratory technicians have to expose themselves to an array of bacteria and diseases. To combat the spread, technicians wear case specific PPE.

According to Moore, day-to-day blood draws only require gloves and a lab coat but infectious diseases need special direction from the Medical Group’s Public Health division.

“When we are handling any biological material we treat it as infectious,” Moore said. “We set that high standard so when we do encounter something dangerous it has no impact on our procedures. It doesn’t matter if the sample is infectious because everything is handled with the same amount of caution.”

The new Air Force generation model (AFFORGEN) is preparing units to train together and deploy together. As a result, base-wide resources are adjusting their capacities to account for the increase in deployers.

The laboratory already serves the largest group of retirees and dependents in the nation with 200 tests being processed and shipped per day. According to Moore, the team anticipates the number of tests to increase with AFFORGEN, but are equipped to handle the surge.

The wave of patients brought by AFFORGEN is just one situation that Moore and his team have handled over the years. Their problem solving capabilities and determination to continually improve have played a pivotal role in the 6th Medical Group’s ability to adequately support tens of thousands of service members, retirees, dependents and foreign nationals.