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Public health Airmen ensure a medically ready force

  • Published
  • By Peter Holstein
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Air Force public health professionals play a critical role in providing medically ready Airmen to commanders.

The first week in April is National Public Health Week, which highlights the contributions of preventive medicine professionals.

Public health Airmen facilitate force readiness through programs such as deployment medicine, medical readiness tracking, occupational health, food protection, medical entomology, and disease education and intervention. 

“Many people may not understand just how broad our mission is in Air Force Public Health,” said Maj. Drew Wallace, chief of Community Health Programs at the Air Force Medical Service. “There are so many ways public health Airmen are trained to prevent illness and keep people safe. They provide commanders information they need to safely complete their missions.”

Public health Airmen help prevent illness and injury at home station and deployed settings. They monitor disease trends, conduct sanitation inspections, survey disease vectors, and validate medical requirements for deploying Airmen. These efforts are critical to maximizing mission effectiveness and minimizing time lost to illness or injury.

Working together with bioenvironmental engineers, public health Airmen manage occupational health programs. These help ensure a safe workplace, by identifying hazards and recommending risk reduction measures.

“Noise exposure is probably our most common occupational health hazard,” said Wallace. “Flight lines are noisy, so hearing loss is a common injury we work to avoid.  When we see an elevated risk, we identify the problem and recommend a solution to commanders.”

Some recommendations are administrative, like limiting Airmen’s exposure to a workplace health hazard. Others are practical, like replacing safety equipment, conducting clean up, or placing a barrier between the worker and hazard.

“Risk is inherent to the mission, but to keep a fit and healthy force, we need to mitigate risk where we can,” said Wallace. “Heat stress is common in some locations and career fields. Chemical exposure is a concern for many maintainers. It’s our job to identify that risk and work with commanders to find a way to complete those missions safely.”

Keeping a force healthy and fit to fight is one of the oldest challenges in warfighting. Despite advances in medicine, disease and injury remain significant threats. Air Force public health professionals combat these hazards daily, keeping Airmen healthy, fit and medically ready to fight.