6MLMC Team Bids Farewell Before Deploying
Fort Detrick's 6th Medical Logistics Management Center forward team gathered with family and colleagues May 20 to break bread and bid farewell before deploying early next morning. Members will spend a year spearheading the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center - Southwest Asia at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar.
The 6MLMC manages Class VIII commodity and medical maintenance, linking theater requirements with sourcing and distribution systems to ensure medical supplies and equipment get into theater. The unit deploys forward teams into theater while the base operates from the stateside.
Before leaving for Qatar, team members will receive additional training in Fort Benning, Ga., and Kuwait. Lt. Col. David Sloniker, a support operations officer, will assume command of the USAMMC-SWA on June 9. Joining Sloniker are team members Sgt. 1st Class Michael Brady, Staff Sgt. Orton Porter, Maj. Peter Ramos, Spc. Harrylouis Rodriguez and Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Rowe.
To prepare for the mission, the team was fully trained on the Theater Enterprise-Wide Logistics System, a relatively new state-of-the-art enterprise resource planning system deployed at the U.S. Army medical materiel centers in Korea, Europe and Qatar.
"If you want to know the status of flu vaccine - who has flu vaccine and where it is at - go to the system," said Sloniker. "It lets you see what's on the shelf at the global medical materiel centers."
The team is small, but the members boast a diverse set of skills.
"Without us - the medical logisticians - you're just another smart guy," said Sloniker. "The doctor can't do his job if he doesn't have the materiel, the stuff to treat with, and the equipment to make sure that works. So that ventilator that the Soldier is on, the wrench is turned by one of our guys. ... We have a definite impact on the overall healthcare of the theater and the mission."
As the materials management chief, Ramos will assess needs across CENTCOM's Area of Responsibility. Rowe will serve as the outbound manager, ensuring requests are shipped. Brady will support medical maintenance using the Standard Army Maintenance System. Porter will be the customer support chief. Rodriguez will train in all areas of warehouse management, gaining the know-how to teach others when he returns to Fort Detrick.
6MLMC Center Commander Col. Michael Ryan acknowledged the gathering was bittersweet.
"We're standing up here incredibly proud and confident of the team that's going forward," said Ryan. "But I feel like I'm losing my kids. ... This is the best, the brain trust, the heart and soul of this unit.
"I have absolute faith and trust and confidence in every one of you," continued Ryan. "I guarantee something will happen to some Soldier, and you'll get a call in the middle of the night, and you'll answer that call and complete the mission. Some Soldier or Airman will live another day because the right supplies will be available, or the right piece of medical equipment will be maintained, as a direct result of the work you did and the leadership you provided."
Sloniker openly expressed his gratitude for all the spouses, their sacrifice and support. "Without you, we wouldn't be here."
Maintaining a connected family across the miles takes planning, with a little help from technology.
"We tried to take care of the basic stuff, like preplan the budget for the year," said Brady, facing his second tour away from his wife, Pamela, and kids. "We try to limit the unexpected things that happen. We set up those lines of communication like Skype. I'll have my laptop, so we can figure out the best times to contact."
Pamela, former military, reminisced about her own experience abroad: "In the early '90s, there wasn't anything, so my Mom sent care packages when I was in Germany. I talked to her on the pay phones we had.
"It helps that I used to be in the military," added Pamela, "so I know who to get in contact with if I have any problems. ... We have Facebook and email, all of those things. We've been taking a lot of pictures and burned them on a CD."
This mission marks the first deployment for Rodriguez and Rowe. Both expressed an eagerness to dive into their new roles, but admitted it would be a challenge for their families.
"On a personal level," said Rodriguez, "I'm excited about seeing a different culture, seeing a different country. You're doing something that maybe 10% of the population in this county has had a chance to do."
Glancing at his wife across the table, Rodriguez added: "I don't think Kelley's ready yet - like any spouse would be - nervous, concerned for your safety and welfare. But at the same time, they support your decision. It's our job. It's what we signed up to do."
Rowe brushed off serious worries about his wife, Shadonna. "My wife is prior military, so she understands."
Telling children is always tougher, but Rowe managed it with straight-up honesty. He's confident they can cope (perhaps a little too well).
"I told my kids, 'Dad's going to work for a year.' My older daughter is 9, and she understood. My younger son is 4. I told him, 'Daddy's leaving you in charge,' so he's walking around saying, 'I'm in charge when Daddy leaves!' He's smart, so he understands."
Sometimes schools help bolster the spirits of the military family by sending care packages to the deployed. Pamela mused to husband Brady: "Maybe Brianna's 7th-grade class might do something ... so it's not so sad."
Most team members have their laptops loaded with computer games and cases of DVDs to while away free time otherwise spent getting homesick.
For Rowe, the deployment provides the structure and the opportunity to launch a personal mission. "I brought my 'Insanity' [fitness] DVDs, so I'll be working out," he said. "My goal is to be 25 pounds lighter by the time I get back."
Team members have prepped and packed and planned for every contingency while they're away. But they still leave behind one thing - a concern for their families. 6MLMC leadership shares that concern and pledged to take care of their families.
"We're here to honor these guys who are going to assist the docs to save lives on the battlefield," said 6MLMC Center Sgt. Maj. Edward Kelsey. Turning toward the families, he added, "We're also here to put a face to the name of the folks who will take care of you. You have my commitment to serve, but also to pray because that's where the power's at. Pray for their safety, but also for your peace of mind."
Urging the families to call with any need, Kelsey added with a grin: "We cut grass. We watch kids. You name it, we do it."