USAF Aerospace Medicine – Working Hard To Keep Airmen Fit
WARBIRD RADIO – The 99th Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Nellis AFB performs a number of operations ranging from medically certifying aircrews, to responding to medical emergencies on the flightline. They are also responsible for maintaining and treating all pilots, aircrew and flightline workers in support of flying operations.
According to a recent news release, although medicine is in the name, the squadron does much more than that, said Maj. (Dr.) Kenji Takano, a 99th AMDS flight surgeon.
“It is medicine, but it’s also a lot of physiology and understanding of the occupational and physical stresses that (aircrew members) face out there,” he said.
One way AMDS Airmen accomplish their mission is by experiencing firsthand what the fliers go through mentally and physically by participating in a variety of training opportunities.
“We experience the (altitude chamber), (which) simulates going up in elevation,” said Staff Sgt. Natllely Quintero, a 99th AMDS aerospace medicine service technician. “We feel all the physiological symptoms and [gaseous changes] in our body.”
In the controlled environment of the altitude chamber aircrews learn to recognize how their body reacts when deprived of oxygen. The Airmen also conduct familiarization training with the various aircraft on base to understand differences that may have an impact on the crews.
“The key about flight surgeons is they fly with the units,” Takano said. “They fly with these guys, and they understand what (they) go through every day.”
This familiarization gives the flight surgeons a better understanding of what pilots’ bodies endure during flight, and gives the doctors an advantage in understanding the pilots’ needs. According to Takano, Nellis is different from other bases because it has so many different airframes, and every aircraft causes its own type of medical issues.
“Fighter pilots have a lot of neck issues (and) helo guys get a lot of back issues,” he said. “There’s a lot of work related stressors and sleep issues that happen to our (RPA) community,” the doctor said. “Being deployed at home is not easy.”
The ability to see firsthand what aircrew experience really helps Quintero relate to them, she said.
“I have a lot of respect for (pilots) and any flier as to what they do, what their bodies go through and their work,” she said.
From first responder roles to actively participating in aerial flights and training, the 99th AMDS provides a support role to the Nellis and Creech aircrews in aim of their mission.
“The aviation environment is a very harsh environment — very loud, very cold,” Takano said. “For instance some of the altitudes those jets fly at … if the pilots were exposed to the environments at those altitudes, they would have seconds to live.”
I fly with the helo squadron, the 34th (Weapons Squadron), they fly HH-60s. It’s not just a helicopter ride like you see the news crews do where they’re talking about the traffic. It’s a lot of vibration, it’s a lot of temperature extremes, very cold to very hot. It’s hard on you; it’s not an easy place to function.”
The 99th AMDS uses all the tools they have available to keep Airmen safe and healthy through these extreme mission requirements.
“The Air Force has spent a lot of time and money to train these people to do what they do, and we have to work hard to keep them up there and insure flight safety,” Takano said. “Our overall mission is to keep the fliers flying.”
ABOUT THE PHOTO: Capt. (Dr.) Thomas Shute listens to a patient’s breathing during a follow-up occupational health exam Jan. 10, 2014, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Flight surgeons are responsible for maintaining and treating all pilots, aircrew and flightline workers in support of flying operations. Shute is a 42nd Attack Squadron flight surgeon. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Timothy Young)