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1st AF expedites COVID-19 Tests for Processing through AF auxiliary, CAP


Cadet Staff Sgt. Evan Custer, a ground team member from the Eagle Cadet Squadron, leaves the laboratory in Albuquerque after delivering packages of COVID-19 test samples from Las Cruces to the receiving lobby of the New Mexico Department of Health’s Scientific Laboratory Division. Behind him, boxes of samples await processing at that lab. (CAP photo by: Capt. James McKelvey, Eagle Cadet)


Capt. James McKelvey of the Eagle Cadet Squadron in Albuquerque places a box of COVID-19 test samples in a plastic bag for additional safety as CAP pilot Maj. Mark Peters of the Los Alamos Composite Squadron stands by. (CAP photo by: 1st Lt. Joanne Leamer Fisher, Eagle Cadet Squadron, New Mexico Wing)


Capt. James McKelvey (right) and Cadet Staff Sgt. Evan Custer, both of the Eagle Cadet Squadron in Albuquerque, move COVID-19 test sample packages from a CAP plane to a truck for transport to a laboratory for processing. (CAP photo by 1st Lt. Joanne Leamer Fisher, Eagle Cadet Squadron, New Mexico Wing)


The official auxiliary of the U.S Air Force, 1st Air Force, Civil Air Patrol’s New Mexico Wing flew more than 2,700 COVID-19 test samples to laboratories in Albuquerque for processing, transported other medical supplies and provided more than a year’s worth of volunteer labor in just over a month.

The wing has been providing flights and ground transportation to rapidly transport test samples to the Scientific Laboratory Division of the New Mexico Department of Health and to the TriCore Reference Laboratories, both in Albuquerque, for processing. Funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the wing is assisting the National Guard, which is supporting the state’s Department of Health.

“Being able to help the people of New Mexico through the U.S. Auxiliary Air Force is deeply rewarding,” said Brig. Gen. Bryan Radliff, Reserve Advisor to the Commander, 1st Air Force (AFNORTH). “Volunteering is at the heart of American values and we are grateful for the efforts of Civil Air Patrol.”

The samples have come from Farmington—in the state’s northwest region, hit hard by COVID-19—and from Las Cruces, Deming  and the New Mexico Veterans Home in Truth or Consequences. One flight carried personal protective equipment to Farmington’s fire department, and others have transported 3,000 new test kits from the Department of Health to Las Cruces, according to Col. Annette Peters, New Mexico Wing commander.

After the Department of Health tested the entire staff of the Stampede meat plant in Santa Teresa in early May, CAP transported those samples for processing. The flights began April 24, she said.

Nearly 70 wing members from across New Mexico have participated in planning, supporting and conducting the COVID-19 response efforts.

“We have a very dedicated and professional team of volunteers who have done a great job of doing the many tasks required to maintain an effort like this,” said Peters “They did this with the added complication of adapting to all the precautions required to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.”

So far, the wing has provided more than 2,500 hours of volunteer labor—more than a full work year—

for the COVID-19 mission. Participating members are from Albuquerque, Farmington, Las Cruces, Los Alamos, Rio Rancho, Roswell, Santa Fe, Socorro and Taos, she added.

“We are ready to continue to assist as long as we are needed,” said Lt. Col. John Grassham, the wing’s director of emergency services.

Acting as a Total Force partner and the Air Force auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol is aligned with First Air Force to rapidly respond to non-military threats domestically when tasked in a Defense Support of Civil Authorities capacity to save lives, relieve suffering, prevent property damage and provide humanitarian assistance.