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Physical therapists keep service members fit to fight

Tech. Sgt. David Garcia (middle), the NCOIC of physical therapy, 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, monitors the form of Staff Sgt. Melanie Hernandez, a patient with the 386th EMDG physical therapy clinic, as she performs squats on a stability ball during a physical therapy session at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 11, 2017. The physical therapy clinic provides an array of rehabilitative services to promote movement, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability of injured military personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

Tech. Sgt. David Garcia, the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group physical therapy NCO in charge, monitors the form of Staff Sgt. Melanie Hernandez, a 386th EMDG physical therapy clinic patient, as she performs squats on a stability ball during a physical therapy session at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 11, 2017. The physical therapy clinic provides an array of rehabilitative services to promote movement, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability of injured military personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

Capt. Grant Tong, the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group physical therapy element chief, conducts dry needling treatment on a patient during a physical therapy session at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 11, 2017. The physical therapy clinic provides an array of rehabilitative services to promote movement, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability of injured military personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

Capt. Grant Tong, the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group physical therapy element chief, conducts dry needling treatment on a patient during a physical therapy session at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 11, 2017. The physical therapy clinic provides an array of rehabilitative services to promote movement, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability of injured military personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- In a deployed environment, injuries happen. Whether they occur in the performance of duty or through the course of physical exercise, they have the potential to impact the mission.

Each individual in the military, and their ability to perform their duties, plays an important role in the success of the greater mission. For the two-man physical therapy element at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, it is their role to keep members fit to fight.

“What we do is actually keep guys working,” said Capt. Grant Tong, the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group physical therapy element chief. “When injuries occur, we help them return to duty as quickly as possible. We help decrease the down days for fliers and keep the security forces members armed. Our mission is pertinent in terms of keeping the mission running.”

The physical therapy clinic at the 386th AEW is relatively new, with its establishment in January 2016. Prior to its implementation, injured members would either have to travel to the nearest Army clinic for treatment, deal with the minor injury, which often caused it to get worse, or in the most severe cases, be deemed not fit to fight and therefore sent home.

Tong said he believes in doing what he can to help keep the service members of all four branches, and coalition forces, in the fight.

“Physical therapy can decrease the severity of the injury along with helping the member actually get better and return to duty quicker,” said Tong. “A lot of times if physical therapy was not available, an injured member would suffer an injury that could have been resolved way earlier, and then when they get back home, an injury that could have been very minor turns into something very large and exponential.”

Tong and Tech. Sgt. David Garcia, the 386th EMDG physical therapy NCO in charge, provide an array of services to support the permanent party population of two wings and the transient personnel passing through on their way to and from downrange.

The physical therapy clinic’s services include musculoskeletal evaluation and treatment, rehabilitative exercise, stretching, neuromuscular education, postural awareness and therapy for pain management. They also offer clinical expertise in orthopedics, strength and conditioning, trigger point dry needling and manual therapy.

“We are one of the most utilized services here at the medical facility,” said Garcia. “Some people come out here and start training a little harder trying to reach their fitness goals and they may not be doing the exercises correctly. It’s important to have our team on board so we can keep these guys fit to do things safely while they are achieving their goals and to ensure that they can continue doing their jobs they’ve been tasked to do out here as well.”

Anyone can make use of the physical therapy services offered, even if they are not injured. The clinic provides preventive care classes and information on lifting form and techniques and weekly foam rolling and squat classes.

“The physical therapy clinic holds classes on those types of things so even if you are not specifically injured you gain a lot of information that you can take back home to your home station and can continue to maintain throughout your career,” said Staff Sgt. Melanie Hernandez, a 386th EMDG physical therapy clinic patient.

On a day-to -day basis Garcia and Tong see approximately 20 patients a day, providing care to everyone from special operatives to the Airman working in the dining facility. Being the only Air Force physical therapy clinic in the region, it saw more than 1,200 patient visits in the past four months, breaking its own record by servicing over 75 people more per month than the two previous rotations.

“When we are not out here handling the mission we have the time to work on personal goals and part of that is maintaining physical fitness,” said Hernandez. “Having physical therapy out here teaches you how to do everything that you are trying to do and how to maintain the physical standards but doing it in the right way so that you are not prone to injury. The Air Force wants you top notch 24/7 and physical therapy helps you do that.”

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