86 MDSS Airman establishes COVID-19 testing capabilities

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John R. Wright
  • 86th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs
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.


Collect sample. Prepare sample. Analyze sample. Repeat.

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 that came to mind,” said Senior Master Sgt. Katherine Orozco, 86th MDSS diagnostic and therapeutic flight chief, who supervises the lab Marks works in. “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.”

Marks’ work while deployed not only gave him the opportunity to gain a more holistic perspective on the importance of his job, but earned him the award of Airlifter of the Week at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, June 4, 2020.

“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.

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.