Medically ready to be mission ready

Air Force Col. (Dr.) Kimberly Pietszak, interim chief, Department of Quality Services, and assistant chief, Department of Medicine, examines Air Force Col. Patrick McCain at San Antonio Military Medical Center, Aug 26, 2015.  Getting regular checkups are vital step in maintaining one’s Individual Medical Readiness and aids an Airman’s ability to support the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Corey Toye)

Air Force Col. (Dr.) Kimberly Pietszak, interim chief, Department of Quality Services, and assistant chief, Department of Medicine, examines Air Force Col. Patrick McCain at San Antonio Military Medical Center, Aug 26, 2015. Getting regular checkups are vital step in maintaining one’s Individual Medical Readiness and aids an Airman’s ability to support the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Corey Toye)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- From periodic health assessments to regular dental exams, every Airman should know the importance of maintaining their Individual Medical Readiness (IMR) at all times. What many may not realize is that medical readiness is a multi-layered, collaborative approach among many Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) teams to ensure each Airman has met the requirements to deploy.

“Medical readiness is a collaborative effort between medics who see Airmen at the military treatment facilities, the immunization clinic, the pharmacy, as well as the Public Health branch that manages medical readiness rates, as well as other AFMS departments” said Lt. Col. Marie McIntee, Chief of Physical Standards Development for the AFMS. “It is a whole group of people that work together to get Airmen medically ready to deploy.”

Maintaining IMR and being medically cleared for deployment are two key components to medical readiness.

“The IMR program is a commander’s program,” said Col. James Mullins, the Public Health Branch Chief. “This means commanders are ultimately responsible for ensuring their Airmen are ready to go for deployment. The Public Health office at each installation keeps records and tracks IMR rates of the local units.”

IMR includes immunizations, the annual periodic health assessment, dental readiness, certain laboratory tests such as the biennial HIV test, and individual medical equipment such as prescription gas mask inserts. IMR status functions as a baseline assessment of an Airman’s medical readiness record and medical conditions. These assessments help address any potential conditions that could affect an Airman’s ability to complete their mission or deploy.

In addition to IMR, the Public Health branch manages all the additional requirements that Airmen might need to deploy. This includes health threat briefings on any potential hazards in the area of operations, special immunizations, and guidance on illness prevention.

“Through our deployment medical clearance database, Public Health serves as the final check point to make sure Airmen have what they need medically before they are deployed,” said Mullins.

All Airmen must also meet basic physical and medical standards to ensure they are healthy enough to serve and to perform their duties, whether that is in home station or deployed to an austere environment. The AFMS Flight and Operational Medicine team establish these standards.

“It all starts with what are the standards an individual needs to meet in order to serve in the U.S. Air Force,” explained McIntee. “We want everyone to be deployable and healthy enough to do their job, so we do not accept people who do not meet certain, baseline conditions.”

Flight and Operational Medicine teams also set the standards Airmen must meet to perform special duties. Some deployment-specific requirements go beyond IMR, and are specific to geographical location. These come into play prior to deployment and are not part of the in-garrison IMR.

“If an Airman is tagged to deploy to an area where there is a risk of Yellow Fever, then we would require them to get additional immunizations,” said McIntee. “We set these requirements not only to ensure the safety of Airmen, but also to ensure that the unit remains effective in executing the mission.”

Public Health and the Flight and Operational Medicine teams rely on various medical professionals who work to maintain Airmen’s medical readiness and work together to fulfill those requirements.

“When you have a whole squadron that is tagged to deploy, you need to make sure the military treatment facilities (MTFs) are able to meet the requirements to ensure each Airman’s readiness,” said McIntee. “You need to make sure that the pharmacy is able to meet any prescription demands, that MTFs are able to complete any missing health assessments, and Airmen are up to date on their eye exams so they are able to receive the necessary gas mask inserts. Logistically, there is a lot to consider for medical readiness.”

While there are many components to medical readiness, setting baseline medical standards and monitoring IMR are integral in ensuring a unit has the capability to perform their mission and to ensure that the Airmen in that unit are ready to deploy.

“It is vital that all Airmen keep their IMR readiness up, so there is less work to be done to get them ready to deploy,” explained McIntee. “The theory is that if we keep our Airmen ready in-garrison, then we are always able to execute the mission when called on.”

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