Health specialists keep forces active

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
It’s an everyday routine for Airmen and other base personnel to pour into the dining facility for their daily intake of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Most patrons express their apprehension about the flavor of the food, yet they take for granted whether it is safe to eat and how it could affect them if it isn’t. In a facility where thousands of people come and go daily, germs and other bacteria could be a potential threat to their well-being.

So who regulates places like this to safeguard people from would-be microbiological threats?

Here, the public health team is the lead agency responsible for assessing dining facility conditions and also ensuring food is properly stored and handled.

Their core objective is to keep the base populace able-bodied so everyone can continue to carry out the mission.

According to Staff Sgt. Demetrius, a public health technician, the public health team inspects highly utilized facilities, like dining areas, at least twice a month.

“We want to ensure people have a sanitary place to eat, that food is kept at the required temperature and managed correctly,” he said.

In an article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, the author notes that if food isn’t properly stored, it can become spoiled, causing stomach aches, diarrhea, vomiting or fever. In some cases, germs could potentially cause more serious problems such as kidney failure, blood infection and even paralysis.

The dining facilities are a focal point for public health, but their responsibilities extend past those areas. Demetrius said they also inspect various public facilities, such as the latrines, for health vulnerabilities.

“We make sure everything is sanitized properly, that cleaning crews are using appropriate strength disinfectants and simple necessities, like hot water and soap, are available,” he said.

From the moment new rotations arrive at the base, public health establishes a standard for personnel to follow, ensuring they maintain a healthy state. Each new member receives a hygiene refresher, which encourages basic preventative practices to help mitigate health hazards.

“When members first arrive, we want to give them quick synopsis of what they need to look out for,” Demetrius said. “We go over fundamental habits, like washing your hands and using bug repellent and sunblock, to help reduce being exposed to local threats.”

Master Sgt. Kristie, the preventive medicine chief, said the task for health specialists here shifts from force health management and occupational health to community health and preventative medicine.

She pointed out that force health management and occupational health focus more on physical health assessments, as well as individual medical readiness, while the latter is centered on improving the health status for a particular group.

“We are postured in a manner to protect the health of our deployed population by ensuring the food facilities are safe, that any increases in illnesses are investigated immediately and by educating our population,” Kristie said. “Public health's mission involves a lot of education. Knowledge is power and we love to empower our population.”

Demetrius said the public health mission is sometimes overlooked and it’s usually when an epidemic happens, either small or big, when people realize the mission’s worth.

During his time here, Demetrius said the public health team has been fortunate to not have any serious issues, but they remain vigilant in the event their services are required.

(Editor’s note: Due to safety and security reasons, last names and unit designators were removed.)