AF surgeon general aims to help cyber Airmen

By 2nd Lt. Meredith Hein, 24th Air Force Public Affairs / Published April 15, 2014


The Air Force surgeon general visited the 24th Air Force here, April 10, in an effort to learn about ways that the medical community can support cyber operators.

"Air Force medicine is here to support operations," said Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Thomas Travis. "We need to provide the right support for Airmen and their families. I wanted to start this conversation with cyber."

In many areas, including cyber, there is high stress related to the high tempo of operations, Travis said. With so much at stake, there is a need to go directly to the operator.

"We are aiming to customize access, customize prevention and customize care for this growing operational capability," Travis said.

The surgeon general discussed an initiative that aims to either embed or dedicate the right type of medical support for operational units. This practice has been in the works for several years in the special operations, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, remotely piloted aircraft and explosive ordnance disposal career fields.

"People have to be healthy and fit to be effective," Travis said. "If we can help people with injuries or mental health issues in the near term, or prevent them to begin with, mission success and Airman wellness is far more likely."

Mental health practitioners have been particularly useful in at-risk, high-pressure jobs where operators may be more comfortable discussing issues before they become a real problem, Travis said. These providers have the right clearances to be adjacent and available to these operators in their workplace. They know the individuals and the mission, and the individual knows and trusts them. A trip to the clinic may not even be necessary, but if it is, they go see "their doc," much like we have been doing in flight medicine for many decades

"The members of the units know their doctors," Travis said. "That breaks down the stigmas and barriers to care. It helps to know somebody who you can talk to who has the right clearance to hear what you have to say."

For example, the special operations community has specialists who train operators in advance of deployments to prevent injuries and mental health issues. These same providers then provide care for any problems when the operators return from deployment, enabling them to get better quicker. In some cases, such as explosive ordnance disposal, flights are enrolled to a provider, who works and trains with the flight to get a sense of the physical and emotional stresses the operators face, Travis said.

"This program also gives a sense of mission and purpose to providers like some have never had before," Travis said. The goal is to teach providers to understand the missions that they are supporting in order to provide the best level of care.

Travis noted that line mission commanders have been actively seeking the support the Air Force Medical Service has been working to provide through these programs. He hopes to be able to extend this initiative to help cyber operators.

"Cyber is growing in importance, and the Airmen doing this mission perform brilliantly," Travis said. "As such, we are trying to adapt to this new brand of operators. We have to provide a new kind of support that allows these Airmen to have better access to the help they need. 

"Being here has reaffirmed to me that cyber is clearly operational," Travis said. "It is more than network support. It's projecting power where it is needed. Cyber is no doubt part of airpower dominance."