Public Health needed now more than ever

  • Published
  • By Capt. Bonnie Blakely
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, our nation has turned to the CDC for guidance, and in the Air National Guard, we are relying on our public health service members now more than ever. The introduction of the coronavirus has placed a new spotlight on the importance of public health.

“As Air Force Public Health Technicians, we protect our forces from a wide array of illnesses and disease by identifying and minimizing health risks within our community,” said Tech. Sgt. Jenna Bouley, 102nd Intelligence Wing, Public Health technician.

Public health units are responsible for educating Airmen on safety procedures and food inspections, investigating hazardous materials, and maintaining sanitary standards.

“These functions ensure our Airmen remain healthy and mission-ready,” Bouley said.

Public health also consists of instituting preventative health measures to ensure that the health and well-being of military members and civilians are protected. Patient interviews, contact tracing, investigations, and community education have all been part of the efforts to control disease transmission and provide COVID-19 support.

“It involves using analytics, assessments, and making accurate predictions,” said Capt. Nate Horwitz-Willis, Force Health Protection Officer, Massachusetts National Guard Joint Task Force Surgeon. “This ensures that we are doing our best to prevent and protect against disease, injury, and death so that we have the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest potential.”

Public health guard members have been establishing plans and procedures for disease containment in order to safeguard our personnel and missions and lessen jeopardy of infection.

The magnitude of public health collaboration between the National Guard and civilian sectors has broadened to include collaboration between organizations that don’t normally intersect. Planners, intel personnel, logistics, and public health all have to work together to approach this invisible threat in a unified and coordinated manner, Horwitz-Willis said.

“Our continuous training, revitalization, and maintenance of our Disease Containment Plan and Force Health Protection program ensured that public health remained ready to respond when needed,” said Master Sgt. Tanya Borges, 102nd Medical Group, Public Health non-commissioned officer in charge. “It’s a humbling experience to serve and aid our communities during a time of emergency and uncertainty.”

Public health is supporting the ongoing mission to help flatten the curve, control the spread of the virus, and significantly contribute to optimizing the public health system in Massachusetts. Guard members are working at the state and unit level to provide optimal public health guidance and advice to leadership.

Although many service members are actively responding to COVID-19 and assisting in the community, the National Guard continues to fulfill their regular state and federal duties.

“The health and safety of our Airmen is vital in continuing base operations and maintaining mission readiness,” Borges said, “Ensuring our Airmen are healthy, eliminating preventable hazards, and mitigating health risks allows our Airmen to support our state and local communities during emergencies and disasters when they need us most. Additionally, our public health efforts are paramount in ensuring our Intel Airmen remain healthy to continue with their Title 10 missions.”

Airmen are continuing missions at the base level, providing support out in the community, and working at the state headquarters level in joint environments. Guard members continue to follow the guidance from public health, the governor, and the CDC.

Although public health workers might not be directly caring for someone who is ill, they are continuing to work hard behind the scenes to ensure our Airmen and community are staying safe and informed to decrease the impact of COVID-19.