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Recalibrating Airmen: Physical Therapy team provides blueprint for recovery

Senior Airman Akil, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge physical therapy clinic, left, directs Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, through strength and agility exercises at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The physical therapy team utilizes the strength and agility program to help restore physical abilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Senior Airman Akil, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge physical therapy clinic, left, directs Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, through strength and agility exercises at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The physical therapy team utilizes the strength and agility program to help restore physical abilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Senior Airman Akil, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge physical therapy clinic, left, demonstrates an agility exercise for Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore physical abilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Senior Airman Akil, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge physical therapy clinic, left, demonstrates an agility exercise for Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore physical abilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, runs through an agility exercise at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The agility drill is part of a physical therapy program Jamey is participating in to rehabilitate his knees. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, runs through an agility exercise at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The agility drill is part of a physical therapy program Jamey is participating in to rehabilitate his knees. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Senior Airman Akil, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge physical therapy clinic, left, performs a strength and agility exercise with Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The physical therapy team uses the strength and agility program as a method to help restore physical abilities.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Senior Airman Akil, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge physical therapy clinic, left, performs a strength and agility exercise with Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The physical therapy team uses the strength and agility program as a method to help restore physical abilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, and Senior Airman Akil, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge physical therapy clinic, stretch after completing strength and agility training at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The physical therapy team uses the strength and agility program as a method to help restore physical abilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, and Senior Airman Akil, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge physical therapy clinic, stretch after completing strength and agility training at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. The physical therapy team uses the strength and agility program as a method to help restore physical abilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, stretches after completing strength and agility exercises at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. Jamey is participating in the Physical Therapy Clinic’s strength and agility program to help rehabilitate his knees. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, stretches after completing strength and agility exercises at undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 3, 2015. Jamey is participating in the Physical Therapy Clinic’s strength and agility program to help rehabilitate his knees. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, performs a battery of tests on a patient to determine the extent of his injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, performs a battery of tests on a patient to determine the extent of his injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, performs a battery of tests on a patient to determine the extent of his injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, performs a battery of tests on a patient to determine the extent of his injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, performs a battery of tests on a patient to determine the extent of his injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, performs a battery of tests on a patient to determine the extent of his injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, uses trigger-point dry needling to help relieve a patient’s back injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)
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Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, uses trigger-point dry needling to help relieve a patient’s back injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, applies heat to needles to help relieve a patient’s back injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)
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Capt. Joshua, 380th Expeditionary Medical Squadron physical therapist, applies heat to needles to help relieve a patient’s back injury at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Sept. 1, 2015. The physical therapy team is responsible for evaluating patients and utilizing different therapeutic procedures to help restore patient functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik)

Southwest Asia -- It’s a punishing grind. Day in and day out, Airmen are exposed to high operations tempos accompanied by considerable amounts of physical exertion.

Taking a quick look around the base reveals Airmen in their element lifting heavy gear, contorting to fix different equipment and participating in rigorous physical training activities.

Needless to say, this deployment asks a lot if its members.

These instances only scratch the surface of what Airmen endure, and it’s no surprise as a result of so much abuse, bodies are inevitably broken down to the point they need to be tuned up to continue on.

It’s at this point, physical therapy experts become a part of the rebuilding process, assessing injuries and developing plans for Airmen to bounce back from damage their bodies have suffered.

“Our main goal is to keep the mission going and that means keeping people healthy to ensure success,” said Senior Airman Akil, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge of the physical therapy clinic.

Inside the physical therapy facility Akil is the programs lead technician. His structured preparation and desire to help people have shaped his approach in getting Airmen back to the mission.

Although Akil is a seasoned technician now, it wasn’t exactly what he pictured himself doing at the beginning of his career when he was told this would be his profession.

“I didn’t even think they had jobs like this in the Air Force,” he said. “I was prepared to go off and fight somewhere.”

Following those initial thoughts, he began to reflect on his high school and college days when he competed in track and field; it was during this time he first noticed what physical therapists could do to help people.

It was that epiphany, which made him realize this job would be a perfect fit.

“I love athletics and helping people,” said Akil. “Being in a job, which involves both, was something I could see myself doing.”

The road to recovery looks much like Akil’s past in track and field or any other competitive sport setting; exercise clothes, fitness equipment, looks of determination and a coach whose verbal encouragement keeps progress steady.

According to Akil, his strategy to get patients back to a healthy state depends on the severity of their injury. He said typically plans begin with basic movements such as stretching and gradually transitions into more advanced strength training.

Staff Sgt. Jamey, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, found himself in physical therapy and under the guidance of Akil, after accumulating damage in his knees from years of exercise. He credits the Physical Therapy team for the progress he’s made in getting back to full health.

“My experience in physical therapy has been awesome here,” said Jamey. “The program has been very effective. After doing the strength training and stretches I noticed my knees were a lot more loose and stronger.”

At this point in the deployment there have been no signs of business slowing down for Akil, which is business as usual for him.

“The work pace here is intense and when people combine that with heavy workouts there’s more probability for injury,” he said.

Throughout Akil’s time here he’s seen over 780 patients, with a number of those injuries being work or exercise related; and without a doubt it’s been Akil’s efforts, which have kept a majority of those Airmen in the fight versus sending them home.

As one might expect, the physical effects of supporting a war are inherent. The constant wear and tear Airmen experience, whether it’s on or off duty, adversely impacts the mission.

Consequently, the physical therapy team becomes a critical asset, stepping in to minimize those impacts. With each unique blueprint they create, it enables a path back for their patients to overcome injuries.

“This job is 100 percent helping people,” said Akil. “My purpose is getting people back to what they love doing; whether that’s back to their job, into the gym or just back to being healthy.”

(Editor’s note: Due to safety and security reasons, last names were removed.)