HomeNewsArticle Display

Operational Support Teams work inside “beating heart” of Air Force

U.S. Air Force Dr. Alyssa Wu, a physical therapist, Staff Sgt. Travis McAdams, a diet technician, Dr. Natasha Swan, a psychologist, and Capt. Carissa Bartlett, a nutritionist, members of the Operational Support Team that recently stood up at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Sept. 6, 2018. OSTs embed in units throughout the base to evaluate unit health and recommend policies to improve health and readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dr. Alyssa Wu)

Dr. Alyssa Wu, a physical therapist, Staff Sgt. Travis McAdams, a diet technician, Dr. Natasha Swan, a psychologist, and Capt. Carissa Bartlett, a nutritionist, all members of the Operational Support Team that recently stood up at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Sept. 6, 2018. OSTs embed in units throughout the base to evaluate unit health and recommend policies to improve health and readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dr. Alyssa Wu)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) -- Each squadron in the Air Force faces different stressors and health challenges that require unique solutions.

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, is leading an effort to revitalize Air Force squadrons.

“The squadron is the beating heart of the United States Air Force; our most essential team,” Goldfein wrote in a letter to Airmen. “Our vision demands that squadrons be highly capable, expeditionary teams who can successfully defend our nation’s interests in both today’s and tomorrow’s complex operating environments.”

The Air Force Medical Service is supporting that effort by rolling out a new health care model at the squadron level, called Operational Support Teams. OSTs rotate through squadrons at a base, seeking to improve individual health and squadron performance. By focusing on each squadron’s unique job, needs and environment, the OST can address the root causes of illness and injuries, and ensure readiness.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, stood up its OST June 4. The OST has a physical therapist, a psychologist, two nutritionists, an exercise physiologist, and a human performance integrator technician, and embeds with units around the base on a rotating basis.

“OSTs lower barriers to care and head off potential injuries and illnesses by being embedded into the unit,” said Dr. Alyssa Wu, a physical therapist on the JB Elemendorf-Richardson OST. “We take what we learn and combine it with our expertise to make recommendations and implement policies that support the squadron.”

Most health providers on base work in the clinic and treat patients that come to them, while OST members are out in squadrons, engaging Airmen in their daily routines. Rather than focusing on individual health on a reactive basis, the OSTs work to systemically reduce risky health behaviors and improve human performance across the entire unit.

“Our number one priority as OST providers is unit readiness and performance,” said Dr. Natasha Swan, a psychologist on the JB Elemendorf-Richardson OST. “We are not in the clinic doing individual treatment. Our focus is to evaluate the squadron or unit as a whole. We look at how it is working, what the conditions are that cause certain injuries, and what strategies can be implemented to address or prevent health issues.”

As Wu explains, embedding into the unit gives a better idea on the specific challenges a specific unit faces. JB Elemendorf-Richardson’s OST worked to understand the Airmen’s daily tasks while on duty.

“The first step when we embed with a unit is to get fitted for gear and accompany them on duty,” said Wu. “We learn their routines and their challenges. From there, we implemented different policies and programs that would best benefit that unit.”

“Being embedded in a unit gives us a ground-up perspective to tailor our efforts,” said Swan. “Each squadron experiences different stressors. Not only are we looking at the unique environment, but also the different dynamics within the squadron.”

Viewing each squadron as a discrete system helps OST members assess what policies are in place and make recommendations to improve the health of the unit. One policy already recommended by the JB Elemendorf-Richardson OST and put in place for the base guard squadron, is a new vitamin D policy. OST nutritionists tested the unit’s vitamin D levels, and found that 78 percent were deficient.

“Low vitamin D is linked to many healthy issues, like sleep disorders, increased risk of respiratory problems, a weaker immune system, and a higher prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries,” said Staff Sgt. Travis McAdams, a nutritionist on the JB Elemendorf-Richardson OST. “When considering the Alaskan environment and long periods of darkness in the winter, low vitamin D levels can have a real effect on Airman performance. Monitoring vitamin D levels and providing supplements should improve individual health and overall unit performance.”

This policy highlights the systems-level, multi-disciplinary approach the OST takes to address the underlying health issues at the source.

“If a squadron is having sleep issues, it most likely touches several health specialties: physical, mental, nutritional and others,” said Swan. “We can prevent the core negative health behavior by addressing what causes those unhealthy sleep habits.”

As the Air Force refocuses on the value of squadrons as the engines that drive the force, the embedded OST model optimizes health and performance. Specialized care and policies helps squadrons reach their peak effectiveness.

“The goal is to improve the human weapon system’s capability,” said Wu. “Having that embedded medical team to improve the overall readiness and maintain squadrons at that constant level of superior physical, mental and nutritional health makes an OST a really special and unique asset.”

Engage

Facebook Twitter
#ICYMI Yesterday, #USAF Chief of Staff @GenDaveGoldfein had the privilege of presenting the Air Force Cross to Tech… https://t.co/E1f8TBgJYn
Planning to visit the National #911PentagonMemorial? Know before you go; the memorial will close temporarily later… https://t.co/8dBsvEl1gW
RT @ActingSecAF: Op-ed | The U.S. Space Force must be independent but not insular - https://t.co/VAoFe3oXF1 https://t.co/swaIMlVVDZ
👋 Hello @CityOfDallas, #AmericasAirForce is heading your way Sept. 27. Mark your calendars and meet us there!… https://t.co/MWnoLe8aSF
RT @DeptofDefense: Can we fix it?! 👷 $106,176 is how much money the @usairforce saved, thanks to Tech. Sgt. Keith Boudreau’s innovative 3D-…
RT @WomenInAviation: USAF women pilots to provide inspiration to future female aviators https://t.co/HsQuy6RKSH #WomeninAviation #GIAD19 #F
RT @AFResearchLab: "The technologies of tomorrow will exist because of the "Basic Research" of today." Read more on how we're collaboratin…
#WatchLive today at 9:00 A.M. EDT as Barbara M. Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force nominee, testifies before Congr… https://t.co/7DsAHZSZRL
RT @PACAF: #PACAF photo of the Week! #Defenders from bases around the world converged on #Guam to drill in close quarters urban combat as…
An Oral History of 9/11 - Commander Anthony Barnes, "That first hour was mass confusion because there was so much e… https://t.co/cqmFnxB9LA
RT @ActingSecAF: We will #NeverForget the lives lost, both victims and first responders, or those Airmen who have sacrificed so much since…
RT @ActingSecAF: Thanks @JohnBoozman & @RepGaramendi for hosting an early #USAF birthday celebration & honoring the service of our #Airmen
RT @DeptofDefense: WATCH LIVE: @POTUS Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper, & Chairman @thejointstaff @USMC Gen. Joe Dunfor…
RT @AirmanMagazine: The paint job on these @48FighterWing F-15s is similar to that of the P-47 Thunderbolt, the primary aircraft used by th…
Six years ago, Lt. Col. Dan Magruder lost his friend and fellow #AirForce Veteran to suicide. Their training didn't… https://t.co/fY7sVgrriF
#ICYMI, the #F22 turned 22! Happy Birthday! https://t.co/KH4m6FnJk5
RT @Eagles: Thanks to the 177th Fighter Wing for today's amazing flyover! #AFFlyover | #FlyEaglesFly https://t.co/s7EJqi1O1l
RT @AirmanMagazine: A B-2 Spirit from @Whiteman_AFB received fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker above the Norwegian Sea, Sept. 5, 2019. This e…