By Master Sgt. Ken Stephens, 126th Public Affairs
/ Published December 18, 2013
Scott AFB, Ill. -- This story is the final part of a feature article spotlighting each of the Groups of the 126th Air Refueling Wing. For this edition, we present the Group charged with keeping the Wing fit for the fight -- the 126th Medical Group.
126th Medical Group
Shots and preventive health assessments (PHAs) are something members of the Air National Guard are familiar with.
However, there is much more to the 126th Medical Group (126 MDG) than exams, records and shots. The 126 MDG is responsible for keeping the 126th Air Refueling Wing (126 ARW) at a high readiness posture, capable of deploying worldwide at a moment's notice.
Col. John Boehning, Commander of the 126 MDG, talks about the three fold aspect of their mission.
"The first is one that a lot of Wing members are familiar with," says Col. Boehning. "That is that we provide medical support to members of the Wing and that includes the physical exams that we do annually for them, immunizations, health exams, Bioenvironmental Shop surveys, dental screenings, lab work, and optometry. So we take care of all of the medical issues and requirements for members of the Wing."
"A second mission is that we provide personnel to support the domestic response for a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) event within the U.S. That is a unique mission that is basically a joint mission with the Army and we provide, meaning medical support, to that mission. So, in other words, the Army takes care of the extraction component, the decontamination component, and we provide the medical component. It's called a CBRNE enhanced response force package (CERFP) and that's the second mission we have," says Col. Boehning.
"Third," he continues, "we provide fully qualified medical assets to full AEF missions throughout the Air Force and the Department of Defense."
With the amount of information the Medical Group has to gather on the Wing members, tracking current medical requirements and maintaining accurate records can be a full time occupation and it is for some members of the 126 MDG.
"We basically keep everybody up with their current medical requirements. We go through and help personnel making sure they're deployment ready," says Tech. Sgt. Alisha Erlinger, a health systems technician with the Group.
"People have to be healthy to deploy and do their mission," she says. This includes gathering information from other agencies and even members' personal physicians and other health care providers.
"We want to make sure the members are over all healthy and stable," says Tech. Sgt. Erlinger.
As the 126 MDG Superintendent, Master Sgt. Jason Debusk is an expert at coordinating.
He sees his role as vital to the daily operation of the Medical Group. "It's like a quarterback," he says. "You don't control everybody but everyone has a part to play in the role."
"My role is to ensure the mission gets completed here, which is maintaining a fit fighting force for the Air Force and the 126th Air Refueling Wing," says Master Sgt. Debusk.
He spends time mentoring enlisted personnel and working with the officers about issues in the Medical Group. "Eventually it makes it to my level where we discuss it and work through whatever that issue is," he says.
Individual Medical Readiness
One way the 126 ARW mission readiness is measured in the health care area is by the Individual Medical Readiness (IMR) rating.
"That's the number of people that are prepared to deploy at any given moment in time," says Master Sgt. Debusk. "Right now the 126 ARW is at 82%." That number can drop, especially when immunizations such as flu shots are due, but the 126 ARW is consistently above the bar according to Major John Durbin, a Flight Surgeon for the 126 MDG. But according to Master Sgt. Debusk, "The bar is going to change to 85 percent in the next 12 months, then we'll have to meet that bar."
Many duty sections in the Wing have some type of hazard in the workplace such as loud noise or toxic fumes. In order to keep members safe, the Bioenvironmental Shop continually monitors working conditions around the Wing.
"Basically we identify and quantify hazards that are present in the work forces and the shops, " says Master Sgt. Bill Revis, the noncommissioned-officer-in charge of the Bioenvironmental Shop. "And, once we do that, we determine ways to protect people from those hazards."
This includes scheduling members for an annual occupational exam. What personnel are tested for depends on their mission. "Members who work on the flight line, they get annual audiogram exams," says Master Sgt. Revis. "The people who work around fuels a lot, they might get kidney function tests."
The exams are necessary to make sure people aren't being injured or made sick by what they do for a living. "Years ago, before these programs took place, we would have somebody out on the flight line working and, lo and behold, they're losing they're hearing," says Master Sgt. Revis.
But now the Bioenvironmental Shop attempts to eliminate any physical harm due to working conditions. According to Master Sgt. Revis, "It's basically to make sure people aren't being harmed and, by monitoring both their workplaces and their physical well-being, we can do that."
The 126 MDG, like many other Wing units, performs annual training events ranging from local exercises to supporting U.S. military bases and operations overseas.
They also participate in National Guard Bureau humanitarian projects.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe Indian Reservation, South Dakota, served as the Medical Group training ground one year. Seeing the conditions there made Master Sgt. Debusk reflect, "You're here in the states but it's like its own separate entity. It's unique. If anyone gets a chance to do it, it's a good opportunity for them to see things that they've never seen or things that are much different then what you come to see here in the States."
The vital services the Medical Group brought with them were well advertised and warmly received.
"As we were driving onto the reservation they had announcements on the radio saying that optometry was going to be available; dental was going to be available. A couple of things that they don't typically have there, they were advertising on the radio to get more people to come out and get exams," recalls Master Sgt. Debusk.
Col. Boehning says that successfully supporting over 500 Wing deployers over the last two years has been a major success for the Medical Group. "We had to provide the pre- and post-deployment requirements for those people to meet their missions," he says.
That accomplishment is something he wants to build on for the future. "I would like to build on our success in the past which is to continue to provide quality support to the Wing; to continue to support that CERFP mission for the domestic response; and, I think, continuing to look for DoD and Air Force missions that we can impact," says Col. Boehning.
He feels the 126th Medical Group is up to that challenge. He say, "We are very prepared and we have a very highly trained and experienced group of professionals that are ready to meet any mission that is presented to us."
"We are very prepared. We have a very highly trained and experienced group of professionals that are ready to meet any mission that is presented to us," says Col. Boehning.