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509th MDG launches Project HeRO at Whiteman AFB

Alicia Ferris-Dannenberg, the health coordinator and registered nurse assigned to the 509th Medical Group, leads Airmen in a cycling class on October 10, 2019, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. The class served as part of the Health and Readiness Optimization (HeRO) strategy, an initiative newly adopted by the Air Force to address targets for health improvements in areas such as physical activity, nutrition, sleep and nicotine cessation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

Alicia Ferris-Dannenberg, the health coordinator and registered nurse assigned to the 509th Medical Group, leads Airmen in a cycling class on October 10, 2019, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. The class served as part of the Health and Readiness Optimization (HeRO) strategy, an initiative newly adopted by the Air Force to address targets for health improvements in areas such as physical activity, nutrition, sleep and nicotine cessation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

Col. Chrystal Henderson, commander of the 509th Medical Group, and other 509th MDG leaders, participate in a cycling class on October 10, 2019, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. The class served as part of the Health and Readiness Optimization (HeRO) strategy, an initiative newly adopted by the Air Force to address targets for health improvements in areas such as physical activity, nutrition, sleep and nicotine cessation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

Col. Chrystal Henderson, commander of the 509th Medical Group, and other 509th MDG leaders, participate in a cycling class on October 10, 2019, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. The class served as part of the Health and Readiness Optimization (HeRO) strategy, an initiative newly adopted by the Air Force to address targets for health improvements in areas such as physical activity, nutrition, sleep and nicotine cessation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

Airmen assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, participate in a cycling class at the Whiteman AFB fitness center on October 10, 2019. The class served as part of the Health and Readiness Optimization (HeRO) strategy, an initiative newly adopted by the Air Force to address targets for health improvements in areas such as physical activity, nutrition, sleep and nicotine cessation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

Airmen assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, participate in a cycling class at the Whiteman AFB fitness center on October 10, 2019. The class served as part of the Health and Readiness Optimization (HeRO) strategy, an initiative newly adopted by the Air Force to address targets for health improvements in areas such as physical activity, nutrition, sleep and nicotine cessation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- The 509th Medical Group launched a new Air Force Health and Readiness Optimization program at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Oct. 10.

Alicia Ferris-Dennenberg, the 509th MDG health coordinator, led Team Whiteman Airmen in an introductory cycling class. She explained proper form and how to position a stationary bike to maximize effectiveness and minimize risk of injury. Afterward, she gave an overview class on nutrition.

Project HeRO is a reboot of AF Health Promotion efforts designed to target at-risk squadrons using data and evidence-based interventions to minimize work-days lost to preventable illness or injury. It rolled out at 10 sites in 2018 with plans to expand Air Force-wide in 2019.

U.S. Air Force Health Promotion Branch Chief, Col. Thomas Moore said HeRO uses information from annual personal health assessment questionnaires to identify squadrons showing high rates of negative health behaviors.

“We use data to get squadron leader buy-in,” Moore said in an article released in February 2019. “From there we can really impact health behaviors and show them if their squadron’s tobacco use is higher than the base average, or if their people get less sleep than other units across the Air Force. We can explain how it may affect mission performance.”

The collaboration between health promotion teams and commanders can prove critical to program success, which can then further overall mission success.

Col. Chrystal Henderson, commander of the 509th MDG joined in the local HeRO launch.

She said the class was fun, effective, well-planned and just the right amount of time.

“The best part of it was that I got my workout in for the day and I had fun with my team,” said Henderson. “It gave us an opportunity to spend time with each other outside of our usual office setting doing something we all enjoyed.”

Henderson highlighted the HeRO initiative because it promotes health and wellness as a lifestyle versus solely as a means to pass a physical fitness test.

She said it provides the tools Airmen need to prevent, mitigate or reverse actions which contribute to their overall morbidity and mortality.

According to the data gathered by the 509th MDG, more than 60 percent of Air Force members at Whiteman AFB are categorized as overweight, more than 30 percent don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, and upwards of 50 percent do not get enough sleep.

This puts them at risk of developing a chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease. They are also at significant risk for failing fitness standards and sustaining injuries.

“This program gives them what they need to be successful and to see positive changes in how they feel and in how they perform,” said Henderson. “As the old saying goes, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. The HeRO initiative is a guide on the path to prevention. Prevention is the key to health and wellness. Health and wellness leads to mission success.”

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