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Operational Medical Element enhances health, human performance

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerediah Fontanos, 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing Operational Medical technician, demonstrates how to perform a head-tilt, jaw-thrust maneuver during a Self-Aid and Buddy Care training session at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, Dec. 4, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. AJ Hyatt)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerediah Fontanos, 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing Operational Medical technician, demonstrates how to perform a head-tilt, jaw-thrust maneuver during a Self-Aid and Buddy Care training session at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, Dec. 4, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. AJ Hyatt)

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- The new, front line in modern warfare involves intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and cyber mission set; the Airmen accomplishing these are often on global vigilance, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in environments characterized by operational and occupational stressors.

The stressors experienced may include a high workload demand through continuously compartmentalized operations, which require a high cognitive demand, as well as shift work and long duty hours, according to Master Sgt. Devin Magagnotti, 70th ISR Wing Operational Medical Element (OME) superintendent and mental health technician. 

While these Airmen may not be operating physically in combat zones, there is possibly of exposure to combat virtually through audio or visual signals, often in real time.

This deployed-in-garrison situation presents unique stressors for ISR and cyber Airmen that can affect their interpersonal relationships and create social role conflicts.

The combined effects of operational and occupational stressors, and combat exposure, whether in person or virtually, can often result in a decrease in physical and mental wellness, creating the need for an OME.

The 70th ISR Wing’s OME is a function of the wing’s Surgeon General Office and has a mission that differs from that of the regular medical services offered on a traditional Air Force installation. The OME goes out to Airmen to provide education, training, consultation and coaching to enhance the human performance of Airmen at individual job sites, where stressors are located.

Magagnotti recommends that dedicated medical and mental health providers and technicians embed in operational units, like the professional staff members who work in the 70th OME. The element is comprised of individuals with a variety of backgrounds, who can deliver information and training directly to ISR and cyber warriors.

“On a typical Air Force installation, members go to a clinic after a psychological or medical issue has occurred in order to receive care,” he said. “The OME will try to prevent that issue from occurring in the first place by developing and implementing proven operational medical strategies for Airmen.

“The OME employs primary and secondary prevention tactics to mitigate occupational and operational stressors, enhance resilience, prevent injury or illness and facilitate access to the healthcare system when needed.”

In addition to primary and secondary prevention, Magagnotti stated that embedded OME personnel counsel operational unit commanders on overall unit health and assist them with creating or adjusting policies that have an impact on human performance like shift work schedules, workstation or cockpit ergonomics and other human factors that can improve performance.  

“The OME’s responsibilities in the 70th ISRW are to enhance health and human performance for operators by providing preventive services as close to the frontlines as possible,” Magagnotti said. “The team does that by interacting with members across all 70th ISRW organizations to identify and better understand the operational environment.”

Maj. Phillip Howell, 70th ISRW psychologist, said his team has been conducting unit visits with 70th ISRW squadrons and individual flights, to include visits to the 94th, 41st and 29th Intelligence Squadrons. Senior Airman Shane Mabe, 70th ISRW OME medical technician, recently immersed himself with night-shift workers within the 22nd Intelligence Squadron.

“My objective was to get to know some of these Airmen and build a rapport with them,” Mabe said. “I wanted to get an idea of the types of issues and concerns they go through so we could take that information back and conduct research on how to assist them.”

The OME also completes assessment surveys with units to determine areas of need.

“Within the next month, we plan to have at least one squadron complete a needs assessment survey,” said Magagnotti. “The hope with the survey is that OME will be able to get a baseline level of current physical and psychological stressors affecting operators of that one squadron. The ideal plan would be to do a survey for each squadron to identify any unit-specific issues that may be present, such as sleep issues for shift workers.”

Members of the OME will also be training themselves on various aspects of human performance, like exercise, nutrition and psychology, to name a few, according to Magagnotti.  

To better assist the Airmen of the 70th ISRW who are located at this Army duty location, OME is partnering specialized agencies and individuals also located at Fort Meade, to include Army chaplains, the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the sexual assault and response coordinator and military family life consultant.

According to Magagnotti, the goal is to grow support networks over time to where OME can bring in outside speakers to deliver messages and training to members of the 70th ISRW. 

While the OME is a new element of the 70th ISR Wing, it has the potential to yield a major impact on the Airmen it serves.

“This OME site could become a platform for other OME sites to build their program from,” Magagnotti said. “Five years down the road, I see OME being involved in executive coaching and team building efforts to help increase performance across multiple spectrums and globally.”