Aerospace medicine squadron takes flight

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  • By Tech. Sgt. Kristina Newton
  • 1 SOW/PA
When the word aerospace is used, people usually think of aircraft, rockets, the sky and the space beyond our earth. 

But in a new squadron on base; activated alittle over a month ago, it refers to taking care of the people who work in that environment. 

The 1st Special Operations Aerospace Medicine Squadron was formed along with two others as the result of a new directive from the Air Force Surgeon General called the Air Force Medical Services Flight Path. 

Under the old plan, the medical group had only two squadrons; one for patient care and one for support functions. 

"We were one huge medical operations squadron," said Lt. Col. Eveline Yao, 1st SOAMDS commander. "It was all practices in one squadron. Now the medical group has a squadron for each functional area." 

The 1st SOAMDS takes care of mission oriented and occupational medicine. It's comprised of five specialized flights which include bioenvironmental engineering, public health, flight medicine, optometry, and the health and wellness center. 

The bioenvironmental engineering flight manages occupational health, which evaluates the workplace and identifies personal protective equipment, radiation health, and environmental health. They also administer gas mask fit tests. 

The bioenvironmental flight also acts as an emergency response for hazardous material issues because they can identify unknown chemicals and radiological substances.
"They have a machine that can identify white powder by name and brand," Colonel Yao said. 

"We identify the substance, quantify it and tell people how to protect themselves," said Maj. Tiffany Morgan, the bioenvironmental engineering flight commander.
The public health flight is in charge of community health and force health management.
"Basically we do everything that doesn't include actually seeing a patient," said Senior Master Sgt. Eric Lorentzen. "We connect with every single person on this base at one time or another during their tenure here." 

The community health program deals with communicable disease, food sanitation and entomology. Force health includes deployment medicine, medical standards and occupational health. 

"We are the focal point for all medical deployment clearances on this base," said Maj. Javier Ruiz, Public Health flight commander. "That is an average of 450-500 a month; we are the busiest base in the Air Force when it comes to deployments."
"In case of an outbreak of disease, we're also the liaison to outside emergency management agencies," Major Ruiz said. 

"The optometry flight has one of the most technologically advanced clinics in the Air Force," said Chief Master Sgt. Lynn Lawrence, optometry flight superintendent.
"We do general eye exams, laser safety eye exams and we handle all chronic patient care," said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Chapman, 1st SOAMDS optometry flight NCO-in-charge.
"We also work with readiness," Sergeant Chapman said. "We make sure people have the correct eye gear when they're deploying. Our manning will be up to full staff by the end of the month and we'll start seeing retirees and dependents by the end of the year," he said. 

Chief Lawrence went on to add that the squadron has one of the largest contact lens programs in the Air Force and was ranked number two in the Air Force when it comes to productivity. 

The HAWC serves the base health and wellness needs and is open to active duty, retirees, dependents and civilians. The HAWC is located at the Commando Fitness Center. 

"We run the fitness program for the base, which includes training physical training leaders for the squadrons and reporting fitness rates to the wing," said Senior Master Sgt. Willard Gallaher, HAWC NCO-in-charge. 

"We also administer the fitness improvement and body composition programs for individuals who score poorly on the fitness test," Sergeant Gallaher said.
"In addition we offer elective programs such as the running shoes program and running clinic. We have two dieticians on staff who can offer nutritional help for a variety of needs from prenatal, to high cholesterol, to weight loss and we have a tobacco cessation program," he said. 

Flight medicine is directly involved in patient care and helps support public health, bioenvironmental engineering and optometry in their efforts. 

"We take care of the physical portion to make sure personnel can do their jobs," said Master Sgt. Mark VanLoh, flight medicine NCO-in-charge. 

Flight medicine administers acute care to fliers and their families - as well as annual preventative health assessments. 

"Bottom line, we keep the fliers going from a physical standpoint," said Capt. Dave Bigelow, a flight surgeon with the 1st SOAMDS Flight Medicine flight. 

"We also do routine patient care, initial flying class physicals and maintain the flying waiver program which is the largest in the Air Force. We cover emergency response on base for ambulance service, as well as all in-flight emergency response and mishap coverage," Captain Bigelow said. 

A unique aspect is that they also provide point of service, in house care; which means they do all immunizations and blood drawing in the office and patients don't make multiple stops around the clinic. 

"One of the unique challenges we have is that our flight surgeons have to be in the squadrons, out on the line or flying 50 percent of the time," Captain Bigelow said. "So we may only have two doctors at a time in the office." 

"Although we may be low on doctors, we still see the customer no matter what," he said.