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86 MDSS Airman establishes COVID-19 testing capabilities

An Airman prepares a man's arm to take blood.

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, Germany, June 8, 2020. 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class John R. Wright)

An Airman places a blood sample in a machine for analysis.

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, Germany, June 8, 2020. The machine analyzes red and white blood cell counts, hemoglobin, and differentiates between types of white blood cells. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class John R. Wright)

The hands of an Airman preparing a blood sample on a glass microscope slide.

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, Germany, June 8, 2020. Marks was specifically looking for rouleaux in the blood sample, which is when red blood cells are stacked on top of each other. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class John R. Wright)

An Airman looks into a microscope.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Randal L. Marks, 86th Medical Support Squadron chemistry and shipping noncommissioned officer in charge, looks at a blood sample through a microscope at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, June 8, 2020. Marks won Airlifter of the Week for his work drafting the validation plan and operating instruction for a diagnostics system used to test for COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class John R. Wright)

An Airman stands in front of medical supplies.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Randal L. Marks, 86th Medical Support Squadron chemistry and shipping noncommissioned officer in charge, poses for a photo in the medical laboratory at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, June 8, 2020. Marks was named Airlifter of the Week for his establishment of COVID-19 testing capabilities and training of personnel from various medical specialties. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class John R. Wright)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- 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.

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.