Physical therapist strengthens EOD mission readiness

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Octavius Thompson
  • 39 Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Every job in the U.S. Air Force plays a specific role in making sure the mission is accomplished, but for some Airmen, their career fields can physically demand more from their bodies. For the Airmen of the 39th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal flight at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, physical demand is amplified as they are required to do their job while wearing a 75-pound protective bomb suit or other personal protective equipment at times to perform their tasks.

To ensure those EOD Airmen are fit-to-fight, and are properly taking care of their bodies under such strain, members of the 39th Medical Operations Squadron physical therapy element immersed themselves with the EOD flight to observe the causes of injuries, and provided the Airmen with preventative safety measures.

“We need to prevent injuries by going out and working with Airmen and seeing what their job is by performing their duties,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Dennis Shay, 39th Medical Group physical therapist. "I can speculate why Airmen have injuries", says Shay, but he states that being able to complete job specific tasks puts injuries into perspective.

Once the physical therapy element has experienced their physical workload first-hand, they looks for specific factors that will trigger or cause injuries while participating in job-specific activities. This allows the physical therapy element members to determine if the Airmen need exercises to treat and manage pain, or if they are performing movements improperly.

The proposal to work alongside the EOD flight was part of the physical therapy element’s focus areas of performing full spectrum medical readiness and integrating operational support to ensure proper care is provided.  

According to Shay, this plan is not the first of its kind, but will hopefully become a standard across the U.S. Air Force.

Having a physical therapist fully understand what they do allows the EOD Airmen the opportunity to learn injury prevention exercises. Shay emphasized that this approach is not meant to replace a higher level of care, or have the member self-diagnose, but rather it is intended to provide a proactive approach to injury prevention and management.

This new approach should improve overall readiness and mission effectiveness, as well as decrease reactive methods, where physical therapists treat patients as they develop pain and other symptoms after the injuries occur.

“The exercises that we were taught by the physical therapist helps me manage all the stress that I put on my body,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Gershom Slonim, 39th CES EOD technician. “I have never been a part of a physical therapy targeted session, but I think it is important for them to help us treat our injuries.”

Over a period of several months, the physical therapist will continuously monitor the readiness of the unit by observing changes in profile rates of the unit, physical fitness scores, missed work days due to injuries and visits to their primary care providers. Once trends are identified, they will be able to adjust the program as needed.

Shay stressed that all Airmen, not just EOD, should be aware of work space injuries that may limit their ability to efficiently perform within their unit, and should take proactive measures to prevent injury.

“Whether Airmen come to us at the Medical Group, or we go to them for physical therapy support,” said Shay, “the endgame is ensuring Airmen are fit-to-fight, and able to protect the surety and combat missions at the 39th Air Base Wing.”