Embedded care teams work to improve Airman resiliency

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --

Note: One Airman's last name was removed for security reasons.

For Airmen at the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, stress is an occupational hazard. Pressing deadlines, a heavy workload and constant pressure are requirements of the mission.

They are also one of a growing number of units combating those stressors with an embedded care initiative, known as an Airman Resiliency Team, which fully integrates medical and spiritual support teams into the unit.

“The ART team is genuine, deeply passionate and invested in the lives of the 363rd ISRW Airmen and it shows,” said Staff Sgt. Opal, target system technical analyst at the 363rd ISRW. “They have an integrated, whole-person approach and seek to help every person in every way possible.”

Embedded care teams are primarily used for units that have missions with special performance requirements or operational health issues. This includes operations conducted from Air Force installations, such as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

“I think for the Air Force culture the best way to understand embedded care is to think of our roots, and our roots really came from flight medicine,” said Brig. Gen. Sean Murphy, command surgeon for Air Combat Command. “Long, long ago there were flight surgeons and those medics were embedded into the squadrons, a part of the unit.”

Integrating medical and spiritual support staff with the unit enables them to connect more with the Airmen and gain a deeper understanding of the daily challenges they face.

“What we know is every unit has some bit of culture,” Murphy said. “So when you live with them you understand that mission set and that’s where you learn how to relate to that culture and that’s when you can build preventative mechanisms.”

A key component of embedded care initiatives is data collection, which will enable medical staff to better understand the types of problems units are facing and the resources needed to address them, according to Murphy.

“We’ll have these teams collect big data on the wings, and then we can target units for musculoskeletal injuries, mental health support,” Murphy said. “You name it, we can find it and help them fix it.”

Embedded care also makes it easier for Airmen to develop trusting relationships with support staff, leading them to open up and seek care earlier, according to Col. Timothy Butler, command chaplain for Air Combat Command.

“Usually when we expect people to come to us it’s in those moments when things are pretty serious, when they have a real great need,” Butler said. “And so the push is to get out into the units where the Airmen are and be much more proactive in our providing spiritual care.”

In addition to providing daily medical and spiritual support, embedded care teams often host events, such as training and retreats, in order to help Airmen strengthen their personal and professional development.

“The personal tools and skills the ART team provide the 363rd ISR Wing, when utilized, tremendously benefit your personal and professional life,” Opal said. “So not only does our work stand to drastically improve, but our lives do as well.”

There will be 15 operational support teams embedding at 15 different wings beginning in October. The hope is to eventually have one at every wing, according to Murphy.

While each embedded care team may operate differently depending on the needs of the unit, Butler describes their benefit simply: “There’s a difference between being a tourist and being a resident.”