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Transportation Command at Scott AFB helps deliver much-needed baby formula

Five U.S. Air Force Airmen push a large pallet of infant formula onto a C-17 Globemaster lll aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 22, 2022. President Biden launched Operation Fly Formula to speed up the import of infant formula from Europe to the United States due to critical shortages.
Airman 1st Class Jared Lovett
86th Airlift Wing
U.S. airmen load a pallet of infant formula onto a C-17 Globemaster lll aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Sunday. President Joe Biden launched Operation Fly Formula to speed up the importation of infant formula from Europe due to critical shortages.

The U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base is playing a key role in easing the national baby formula shortage.

The shortage prompted President Joe Biden to use the Defense Production Act and parts of the U.S. military tied to Scott Air Force Base.

Over the weekend, the first overseas shipment of formula totaling 78,000 pounds arrived in Indianapolis with coordination from the U.S. Transportation Command, which is stationed at Scott.

It was part of Biden’s announcement last week of Operation Fly Formula, which instructed the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture to use commercial planes contracted by the Defense Department to import formula.

“We learned only a couple hours before the president made the announcement that the Department of Defense was going to be a part of this,” said Scott Ross, a deputy director of public affairs at TRANSCOM. “There were a lot of pieces to the puzzle that were still missing.”

For the first shipment to Indiana, the military used one of its own C-17 cargo planes, mostly because of not knowing exactly how much formula would need to be transported, he said.

“We didn’t know how much we needed to take,” Ross said. “Without information like that, it’s hard to go out and try to contract with commercial carriers when you don’t know what it is you’re trying to get them to do.”

There were other logistical challenges too, as it normally takes a few weeks to move baby formula across the Atlantic Ocean. TRANSCOM needed to work with the State Department and European countries to quickly move Sunday’s large shipment from Zurich, Switzerland, to an air base in Germany before it could reach the U.S., Ross explained.

“Crossing from Switzerland to Germany is not like crossing from Missouri into Illinois,” he said. “It’s an international border.”

Future shipments, like Wednesday’s to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., will arrive through one of the Department of Defense’s commercial partners, he said. They’ll continue to be managed by the department and TRANSCOM in the coming weeks, though Ross said the White House would announce the next shipments.

The baby formula shortage has ratcheted up stress for many families across the country.

“It’s been happening for quite a while,” Joana Busby toldSt. Louis on the Airlast week. “Just seeing it in the news within the last week, a lot of us have been feeling this shortage for quite some time.”

Busby, a High Ridge resident, started a “formula swap” group on Facebook after she and her husband weren’t able to find any for their 3-month-old son.

“It causes a lot of anxiety,” Busby said. “Being a new mom, in general, is really hard. Anxiety really hits when you have a newborn — and then, the worry of not being able to feed your baby just exponentially makes it worse.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. 

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.