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Cold Chain Guru: Reservist critical to DLA's COVID vaccine logistics efforts

Lt. Col. Dana Dallas, second from left, along with fellow Reservists from the 914th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York. Dallas has been a Reserve Citizen Airman for 21 years. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. Dana Dallas, second from left, along with fellow Reservists from the 914th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York. Dallas has been a Reserve Citizen Airman for 21 years. (Courtesy photo)

Dallas visits with team members from Operation Warp Speed on the day the first COVID-19 vaccination doses rolled out. (Courtesy photo)

Dallas visits with team members from Operation Warp Speed on the day the first COVID-19 vaccination doses rolled out. (Courtesy photo)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

For 21 years, Dana Dallas successfully juggled her flourishing civil service career at the Defense Logistics Agency with military service in the Air Force Reserve. Then came COVID-19.

As the nation’s combat logistics support agency, DLA manages the global supply chain – from raw materials to end user to disposition – for all the military services, other federal agencies, and partner and allied nations. As DLA’s cold chain program manager assigned to DLA Troop Support in Philadelphia, Dallas is the lead for the logistics involved with any medical item that has a temperature requirement.

"Cold chain management is the science of preparing medial temperature-sensitive products for shipment utilizing approved systems and procedures," Dallas explained. "It also includes ensuring required temperatures are maintained throughout the supply chain and validation that those conditions are being met during all phases of distribution until issue or administration."

Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic added considerably to Dallas’s already heavy DLA workload, and ultimately led her to make the difficult decision to retire from the Air Force Reserve. A lieutenant colonel, Dallas is currently assigned to the 914th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York.

She will retire in August with 21 years of service in the Reserve, five years of active-duty time and four years at the Air Force Academy.

“Being fourth generation military, I’m proud to have worn the Air Force uniform for the last 30 years,” she said. “It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve always been able to balance both jobs in the past. Unfortunately, that balance has become more difficult now with everything going on with the COVID vaccine at DLA.”

DLA is tasked with distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to all overseas military and Navy Fleet customers. Since some of the vaccines are required to be kept frozen at minus 20 degrees Celsius, the cold chain management can be difficult to say the least.

“Add in the fact that the vaccines are currently under an emergency use authorization and are not fully Food and Drug Administration approved, and it presents some unique customs challenges in shipping to some overseas locations,” Dallas said. “There is no real end to the mission yet, and I’m not sure how long the high pace will continue.”

Like almost all Reserve Citizen Airmen, Dallas became proficient in balancing her part-time military duty with her full-time job as she moved up the ladder at DLA and simultaneously managed a Reserve career that saw her serve as a DLA individual mobilization augmentee and in aeromedical evacuation squadrons at the 514th Air Mobility Wing, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, and then the 914th Air Refueling Wing at Niagara Falls.

“I can’t say enough about my leadership at both DLA and in the Reserve,” the lieutenant colonel said. “They went out of their way to make sure I could meet my responsibilities in both of my jobs. There has been a lot of approval of telecommuting and a lot of working at the Reserve unit during the day and then coming back to my room and working on DLA stuff until midnight. I just finally reached a point where I didn’t feel like I could give my Reserve job all the attention it needed.”

Dallas said her Reserve career was highlighted by three deployments, and that her two jobs have intersected at times over the years.

“Where my jobs bleed over has been entertaining at times,” she said. “My last deployment to Qatar, I actually put on a suit one day and went to the Army base and visited with an Army theater logistics operation that DLA partners with because I happened to be in the neighborhood. Once I was launching an air evac mission and had to tell the loadmaster he was putting the cold chain boxes in the wrong part of the aircraft. When he asked me what made me qualified to tell him that, I pointed to the label on the box with my name on it. The rest of my crew were just nodding their heads. Yep, that’s her.”

She went on to say that her service in the Reserve helped her in her role at DLA.

"When we would ship cold chain to Reserve units, in most cases it would go through the active-duty host unit and would then have to be trans shipped to the Reserve unit," she said. "There could be delays in time and some times the repackaging used would present problems.

"A few years ago we used Niagara as a test base for direct shipments of flu vaccine. It worked really well, and that's the standard we now use for all Air Force Reserve bases. I've tried to take advantage of that crossover wherever I can."

Dallas said the decision to hang up her Air Force uniform has been heart wrenching, but it’s made easier by the fact that there are so many talented Reservists assigned to the 914th AES eager to rise to the challenge.

“Ever since I’ve been a second lieutenant, I’ve known that the most important part of my job is to grow, develop, mentor and build our future leadership,” she said. “I’m confident in the people I have helped grow up in our unit. They are going to do a phenomenal job. At this point in time, managing this pandemic and making sure we are ready if there’s another one needs my full attention at DLA.”

With her retirement approaching, Dallas said she was experiencing a wide range of emotions. “I’m a little nervous, I’m a little sad and I’m very proud of what I’ve done in the Reserve. There isn’t much I would do differently. COVID has affected everyone in the last year. It definitely had an effect on me. It’s all about the vaccine for me and it will be that way for a while. I’m going to miss wearing the uniform and I’m going to miss the mission, but most of all I am going to miss the wonderful people I’ve worked with over the years. There’s a large chunk of my squadron that is deployed and won’t be able to be at my retirement, but Niagara is having an Air Force ball in December. I’m making sure my mess dress is still in order so I can come back and see everybody.” #ReserveResilient            ■

 

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