LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, AZ, UNITED STATES
Story by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder
LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. – A variety of factors can hinder Airmen from successfully completing the mission or deploying, whether it be sickness, poor eating and sleeping habits or unfamiliarity with the job.
Airmen in the 56th Operational Medicine Readiness Squadron Public Health unit help mitigate those factors, thus ensuring safety of the community and ensuring Airmen are ready to deploy.
“Our mission is to stop the chain of infection and prevent diseases to the member,” said Staff Sgt. Arta Rexhepi, 56th OMRS Public Health deployment health noncommissioned officer in charge. “If something were to happen we’re the first ones to track what’s going on, how it happened, where it came from and how to prevent it.”
Public health is sub-divided into community health and occupational health. Each section has a different role in supporting the base community.
Community health focuses on food safety and sanitation. Airmen from this section help ensure the freshness of food in facilities around base.
“Anywhere that you can eat on base has to come through public health first,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Deguino, 56th OMRS Public Health communicable disease NCOIC. “Your traditional places like the Base Exchange and the Commissary get inspected by us monthly. Typically [we inspect] smaller facilities quarterly, like the shoppette.”
While inspecting facilities, he looks for expiration dates and makes sure the food is covered properly. He also makes sure the employees are wearing the proper gear. The food’s temperature has to stay between 41-135 degrees for four hours or less to keep it from spoiling, said Deguino.
Public health’s motto is “breaking the chain of infection.”
A subset of community health, the communicable diseases team that tracks illnesses on base. Specialists from this team brief new Airmen weekly on techniques to prevent sexually transmitted illnesses. There can be eight to nine reported a month or as little as zero, said Deguino.
“Our job is to educate them on how it happens and what they can do to protect themselves, so it doesn’t happen again,” said Deguino.
Occupational health and the deployments section are subdivisions of public health. Occupational health Airmen focus on protecting the worker’s health.
These specialists perform annual audiograms on Airmen who are exposed to loud noises for an extended period of time. Along with audiograms, they also document occupational illnesses on people’s records and have a fetal protection program.
“Let’s say a female on the flightline gets pregnant,” said Deguino. “She would come to occupational health for her pregnancy profile. If they’re exposed to chemicals on the flightline, they’re going to be moved to an administrative position until they have their baby.”
Airmen who are tasked to deploy medically in- and out-process through public health before deploying.
“Once they get tasked by their unit deployment monitor, public health will send them a medical checklist with anything ranging from doctor’s appointments to pregnancy tests,” said Rexhepi. “We’re the person that signs off saying they’re medically cleared to deploy.”
Public health helps keep Airmen healthy, ready to train and deploy by employing a variety of methods, however, Rexhepi said, education is the most important aspect.
“It can all be prevented with education,” said Rexhepi. “Public health is a very big preventative medicine. Just education, education, education.”
For more information regarding disease prevention, visit the Center Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov, or call Public Health at 623-856-6174.