88th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron focused on ‘fit to fight’ force

  • Published
  • By Vince Little
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – For the past 18 months, Senior Airman Rachael Hendricks has served as a flight and operational medicine technician with the 88th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron.

Every day, she handles a wide range of responsibilities and duties. Hendricks conducts personal health assessments, medical exams on prospective recruits and active-duty personnel, and reviews records for reclassification and retraining. Within the crucial field of flight medicine, she also supports the Initial Flying Class program.

All of it’s aimed at satisfying strict medical requirements for Airmen’s demanding tasks, safeguarding the health and well-being of future officers and Air Force leaders, and contributing to overall patient readiness and success.

“I scrutinize medical standards to ensure the right person is selected for the right job or assignment at the right time,” Hendricks said. “I help ensure that our cadets and active duty, including those from our sister services, are fit to fight by undertaking medical checks and health screenings, reducing the likelihood of accidents due to undiscovered health conditions.

“This helps us maintain a high level of operational medical readiness, ensuring that our forces stay fit, flexible and ready to confront any challenges that may occur.”

Along with about 300 other military, civilian and contractor personnel at 88 OMRS, Hendricks uses that proactive approach down in the Wright-Patterson Medical Center trenches while contributing to operational effectiveness and mission success as the squadron “dominates the dirty work” for the 88th Air Base Wing and 88th Medical Group.

The 88th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron provides direct support to Air Force operations by promoting and sustaining force health, preventing injury and illness, restoring health and elevating human performance. Its top priority is ensuring Airmen and military members are medically ready to execute their missions at home-base and deployed locations.

“We strive to prevent disease and injury, promote health and optimize performance while providing excellent medical care to our beneficiaries,” said Lt. Col. Jason Glitz, 88 OMRS commander.

Seven flights, six key missions

The squadron commands seven flights: Aerospace and Operational Medicine, Bioenvironmental Engineering, Mental Health, Physical and Occupational Therapy, Public Health, Optometry and Warrior Operational Medicine Clinic.

Key missions are carried out at the unit level through effective management of half a dozen major aerospace-medicine programs, including: flying and special duty operations, occupational and environmental health, force-health readiness, community health, human-performance sustainment, and emergency response and disaster management.

Maj. Trevor Sleight, the squadron’s Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight commander, said his unit’s engineers link 88 MDG with the hazardous work accomplished throughout Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“They are the first line of defense for human-health protection, detecting hazards before they cause harm,” he said. “In addition to identifying hazards, bioenvironmental engineers help mitigate them through engineering controls, training and protective-equipment recommendations. BEs do their best work out of the office. Chemicals, radiation, lasers, ergonomics, heat-and-cold stress all fall within their purview.”

Across WPAFB, 88 OMRS bioenvironmental engineers also partner with the 88th Civil Engineer Group, Safety Office and other organizations to align the right resources against correlating problems.

“Even the most junior Airmen are on the front lines working with partners to evaluate health hazards and ensure controls are functioning properly,” Sleight added. “If you walk past a chemical operation, an X-ray or a laser, a BE evaluated it to keep you safe.”

In the Warrior Operational Medicine Clinic, licensed practical nurses such as Brenda Couch stay busy reviewing schedules, maximizing efficiencies and preparing charts before patient arrival to make sure all required preventive health tasks – including immunizations and lab work – are updated and complete for service members.

“I provide direct patient care by collecting vitals, updating patient medical records and reviewing readiness requirements that are needed to ensure the total force maintains a fit-to-fight posture,” said Couch, who’s worked at Wright-Patterson Medical Center for eight years. “When required, I assist providers in minor outpatient procedures. I also ensure continuity of our staff readiness by training new Airmen, civilians and contractors at the WOMC clinic.

“I’m very happy to be performing my duties and contributing to mission success as a member of the 88th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron. That’s my place on this team.”

Other unique mission sets

The squadron’s Mental Health Flight oversees vastly unique missions, from treatment of serious psychiatric conditions to programs such as Family Advocacy and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment.

Lt. Col. Ruth Roa-Navarrete, its commander, said her flight embodies the 88 MDG mission of “train, treat and teach” by hosting three graduate medical education programs (psychiatry, psychology and social work) and assisting with three others, including physician assistant preceptorship, psychology and social work practicum students from nearby Wright State University.

Identifying and managing “readiness-impacting conditions” is Mental Health’s focal point in patient care, she added.

“We want to return Airmen and service members to full mission capabilities in an expeditious manner,” Roa-Navarrete said. “While we would love the opportunity and ability to treat ‘problems of living,’ there are multiple resources available for that, and our primary focus is on conditions that affect the member’s ability to be worldwide-qualified.”

Like many throughout the base hospital and 88 OMRS, Mental Health staff and residents maintain 24/7 availability for crisis and on-call services.

“Our staff are willing to work anywhere anytime to get the mission done,” Roa-Navarrete said. “We are used to dealing with members when they are experiencing significant distress and most vulnerable. We work diligently to avert risk-management concerns. We also pride ourselves in going where the need is, so staff are more than happy to come to work sections across the base to provide prevention services.”

Meanwhile, WPAFB is one of two bases worldwide providing physical and occupational therapy, chiropractic care and Brace Shop services for active duty, family members and retirees – thanks to 88 OMRS’ Physical and Occupational Therapy Flight. It treats more than 20,000 patients a year.

The flight is boosted by providers from Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing, as well as a retired occupational therapist who volunteers to see patients.

Similar to its sister units, the Physical and Occupational Therapy Flight’s primary concern is Airmen and troop readiness.

“We provide evidence-based therapies for our active-duty members with musculoskeletal injuries,” said Lt. Col. Erin Sturgell, flight commander. “This focus allows for optimized return to duty for our service members to the local mission, as well as any potential deployments.”

Senior Airman Leah Fitzke has served as a physical medicine technician in the Physical and Occupational Therapy Flight for more than two years.

“On a normal daily basis, I work in the Physical Therapy Clinic, treating patients with a variety of different injuries,” she said. “The clinic is primarily an orthopedic outpatient clinic, which treats everything from chronic conditions to post-operative conditions.”

In addition to her clinical role, Fitzke is a Tactical Combat Casualty Care instructor, teaching medical personnel proper knowledge and skills that can be used in many different contingency situations.

“These include stateside mass-casualty events to events in a deployed setting, with the goal of reducing fatalities by utilizing a set of skilled interventions,” she added. “Instructing TCCC helps train medics with the goal to build a stronger expeditionary force.”

Running Wright-Patterson Medical Center’s physical therapy sick-call clinic for active-duty service members is among critical “dirty work” missions the Physical and Occupational Therapy Flight tackles for 88 OMRS, Sturgell said.

“We provide acute care for musculoskeletal injuries that have occurred within the last 14 days,” she said. “This treatment option has helped decrease patient visits to their primary care provider and the emergency department. Seeing the patient sooner in physical therapy also helps improve patient outcomes.”

Delivering premier care

Within the Air Force’s second-largest hospital – (David Grant USAF Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base, California, tops the continental U.S. list) – 88 OMRS provides care for 67,000 eligible beneficiaries annually, including about 6,000 active-duty patients.

Glitz said one of his squadron’s biggest priorities is guaranteeing Airmen and their beneficiaries receive health care when needed.

“Whether it’s seeing a medical provider when sick or a physical therapist, I want to ensure that our patients have the tools to get healthier and stronger,” he said.

Leaders and personnel at 88 OMRS say they’re dedicated to patient care, mission success, and making sure Airmen are physically and mentally ready to serve.

“Each patient plays a different role in the mission, and the overall goal is to get each one of them back into the fight,” Fitzke said.