86 MDSS Airman establishes COVID-19 testing capabilities


Collect sample. Prepare sample. Analyze sample.

Back-to-back patients wait outside the clinic door, sitting in strategically arranged chairs that ensure proper physical distancing.

“Next.”


Collect sample. Prepare sample. Analyze sample. Repeat.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Randal L. Marks, 86th Medical Support Squadron chemistry and shipping noncommissioned officer in charge, prepares to take blood from Master Sgt. Marco Avecilla, 86th Airlift Wing Ramstein chapel superintendent, in the medical laboratory at Ramstein Air Base, June 8. Marks was awarded Airlifter of the Week for being the first medical laboratory technician to establish COVID-19 testing capabilities in West Africa for the Department of Defense.

This is what a typical day at the medical laboratory looks like for Staff Sgt. Randal L. Marks, 86th Medical Support Squadron chemistry and shipping noncommissioned officer in charge.

It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day schedule and not fully see how one’s work impacts the bigger picture.

For Marks, however, routine changed when he answered the call to be the first medical laboratory technician to establish COVID-19 testing capabilities in West Africa for the Department of Defense.

“When the tasking came down, he was the first person who came to mind,” said Senior Master Sgt. Katherine Orozco, 86th MDSS diagnostic and therapeutic flight chief, who supervises the lab in which Marks works. “When you’re in a medical facility you see patients day in and day out, but in the deployed setting I knew he would thrive. He could see how a medical lab tech touches so many different operations, and he could connect that to what he does day to day.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Randal L. Marks, 86th Medical Support Squadron chemistry and shipping noncommissioned officer in charge, prepares a blood sample to examine under a microscope at Ramstein Air Base, June 8. Marks was specifically looking for rouleaux in the blood sample, which is when red blood cells are stacked on top of each other.

Marks’ work while deployed gave him the opportunity to gain a more holistic perspective on the importance of his job: It also earned him the Airlifter of the Week award at Ramstein Air Base, June 4.

“I didn’t see it coming at all,” Marks said. “It feels good to be recognized because this is my first award.”

Testing for COVID-19 has been at the forefront of the medical field’s priorities for the past few months, and training medical personnel on this capability has been a critical step in disease response.

Marks drafted the validation plan and operating instruction for a diagnostics system used to test for COVID-19 and trained 13 personnel from various medical specialties on its use.

“His presence and technical expertise ensured the advanced operating base and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission continued by enabling rapid diagnostic testing for (various military units),” Orozco said.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Randal L. Marks, 86th Medical Support Squadron chemistry and shipping noncommissioned officer in charge, loads a blood sample into a blood count machine at Ramstein Air Base, June 8. The machine analyzes red and white blood cell counts, hemoglobin, and differentiates between types of white blood cells.

When Marks, a Brookshire, Texas, native, isn’t working, his hobbies include Special Forces fitness, reading leadership books and spending time with his wife, Senior Airman Madison Marks, and their Great Dane, Hank.

“I’m actually training for an Ironman (Triathlon),” Marks said.

Known to be someone who is great with people and has a natural ability to lead, Marks is always pushing himself and constantly improving, Orozco said.

Going above and beyond the status quo is what makes Airmen like Marks — Airmen who constantly strive to be better — valued and esteemed members of the World’s Best Wing.