Story by Ellen Crown on 03/11/2019How long does it take to develop a medical logistics expert?
Many medical logisticians tell you that it takes years or decades, if not a whole career of continual education.
For many, a key part of that development process is completion of the Medical Logistics Management Internship Program (MLMIP), organized by the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency.
The program, commonly known as the "USAMMA internship," has been growing the Army's top medical logisticians for more than half a century. A look around the program's main classroom, located within the Defense Medical Logistics Center at Fort Detrick, Maryland, reveals dozens of class photos with the younger faces of many of today's top medical logistics leaders, including USAMMA's current commander Col. Timothy Walsh.
"The USAMMA Course' has continued to evolve and grow over the years since my time in the course in 2003, much like the mission-load of our Army. This must continue if we are going to stay relevant. During my course, we were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, which had just kicked off. Today, we are still in Afghanistan (Freedom's Sentinel) and have returned to Iraq and expanded to Syria (Inherent Resolve)," Walsh said. "The requirements of the current fight, coupled with our focus on Korea and Europe, make it imperative that our course develops leaders who understand the Medical Logistics Enterprise from the tactical to the strategic level. Most importantly, they must leverage this knowledge and experience in key billets coming out of the program."
Since the MLMIP's inception in 1967, nearly 650 USAMMA interns have completed the program. The program's mission is to provide mid-career medical logistics Department of Defense service members and civilians with advanced medical logistics and acquisition training in medical maintenance, facilities, logistics processes, shelf-life extension, automation systems, optical fabrication, foreign military sales, supply chain management, acquisition logistics, civilian health care business practices and program management principles.
While MLMIP is best known throughout the Army medical logistics community, the program is open to all branches of service. MLMIP continues to strengthen its focus on operational and strategic logistics in a joint and inter-agency environment because that is how today's military operates.
In the past two years, the program has evolved from six months to nearly one full year. MLMIP students now complete six months of didactic training followed by five months of on-the-job training. The idea, which was originally proposed by a MLMIP student, allows interns to immediately use classroom-gained skills in a real-world environment.
"In 2016, during my first class as the MLMIP program manager, the class leader Capt. Nicholeus Harris provided a detailed problem statement and solution for the innovation and growth of the MLMIP," said LaTrish Jones, USAMMA's MLMIP program manager. "His recommendations to change the internship from six months to one year, to include extended on-the-job training and more diverse training, set the tone for where we are today."
The current MLMIP class consists of eight interns and will be the first group to complete the program under the new year-long format. While each of the interns applied to MLMIP for different reasons, they agree that the program provides diverse and unique training experiences.
"I fully understand equipment management and logistics within a Military Treatment Facility, but this is only a small view of the entire logistics enterprise. My reason for applying to the USAMMA MLMIP was to receive a strategic view of the entire medical logistics enterprise from a military and industry view. In addition, I wanted to also receive exposure and awareness to key Department of Defense logistics program sites and world-wide enterprise logistics operations," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Charles Judd, who is currently enrolled in the MLMIP.
"The strategic exposure to the [medical logistics] enterprise was also a key interest for me," added program intern Capt. Sam Weber. "I researched the program and found it melded together civilian and military industries which focused on medical logistics, supply chain, cold chain, medical maintenance, automated logistics systems, and acquisitions."
The current class's upcoming graduation in June is bittersweet for Jones, who is currently away from USAMMA on a developmental assignment. In her absence, Lt. Col. Stephen Spulick and Maj. Gary Freeman are managing the program. Freeman, who graduated top of his class at MLMIP in 2017, said he is keenly aware of the program's benefits and potential.
"The course continues to develop and we are working to standardize the curriculum without diminishing the unique, customized experience that each class receives," said Freeman. "The vision is to build MLMIP into a program that has reputation of delivering the best, so that when senior leaders see MLMIP on a service member's record or civilian's resume, they know they are getting a highly trained, strategic-level thinker."
Historically, one of the biggest draws to MLMIP has been its variety of site visits, which include various DOD and civilian hospitals and logistics depots, private industry distribution centers and Fortune 500 organizations. The program's combination of training, site visits and experiences provide a level of organizational cross-pollination that is not typically offered in traditional military schools.
"The Defense Logistics Agency trip to Philadelphia was the most eye opening. DLA organized a two-day briefing on all aspects of medical logistics from the joint perspective. Additionally, they provided briefings from some of the other commodity managers and how they support the Department of Defense," said Maj. Jonathan Spiegel. "It made me realize that the execution of logistics across the board has several similarities."
Many of the interns also praised a recent trip to Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, where they toured a centralized medical supply distribution hub that serves hundreds of clinics and hospital within a 100-mile radius. Center employees leverage a variety of technology to perform their jobs more efficiently and reduce errors. For example, instead of using paper lists to pull stock from the shelves, they wear head phones with virtual assistants that direct them to the correct location and product. Then they sort and package the items based on simple photos or symbols instead of serial numbers that are easy to misread and slow the process down.
"That makes sense to me, as a medical logistics specialist. If I can cut out the waste, the extra steps or activities that are not necessary, I can be focus on the mission," said Staff Sgt. Edwin Figueroa, who is currently enrolled in MLMIP.
Another benefit of MLMIP for many of the students was the opportunity to better understand the medical logistics enterprise, including USAMMA. Some of the students admitted that for most of their Army careers, they had envisioned USAMMA as a large supply distribution center, not unlike some of the hubs they toured that are filled from floor to ceiling with boxes of medical equipment and supplies. In fact, USAMMA's Fort Detrick location is set up inside a headquarters office building that includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, Defense Health Agency medical logistics, and Defense Logistics Agency. USAMMA also oversees operations at site locations worldwide, including medical maintenance shops and centrally managed medical stocks.
"I feel that one of the best parts of this program remains the ability to network and put faces to names," said Sgt. 1st Class Marlon Derecho, a current MLMIP student. "As a non-commissioned officer, I don't have another venue where I can really do this. But through this program, I now have a better understanding of the key medical logistics leaders and resources available to me in the future."
"The MLMIP is the best opportunity to understand how medical logistic is critical to the delivery of medical care," added MLMIP intern Maj. Fernando Negron-Lopez, who has served in the Army for more than 20 years. "As a logistician, we must anticipate user needs. We can't just rely on historical data. We must consider the environment, provider, and the medical condition of the patient among other factors to calculate the demand of the Class VIII (medical materiel) requirement."
Reinforcing that point, Spiegel added, "Health care delivery doesn't happen without medical logistics."
To learn more about the MLMIP program, visit https://www.usamma.amedd.army.mil/Pages/MLMIP.aspx