JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
When a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II is down for a maintenance issue, a lot of high-ranking officials have questions: Where’s the part? How long will it take to get here? When will the aircraft be available for missions?
More important than aircraft are the people who fly them. Before aircrew are certified for flight operations, they must see personnel specialists, get gear from aircrew flight equipment, and visit finance to get their flight pay squared away to name just a few support functions. At the 176th Medical Group, they will see Aerospace Medicine technicians Alaska Air National Guard Master Sgt. Angela Bear and Tech. Sgt. Loida Torres Román, who run the 176th Medical Group Medical Standards Office.
“We oversee all medical actions within the 176th Wing,” Bear said. “In the Medical Standards Office, we make sure all members in the wing meet both retention and fly standards if they are a flyer.”
The mission sounds simple, but both explained how complex medical actions can get and how much work goes into ensuring wing members are medically fit and ready to go out the door at a moment’s notice.
“Members are sometimes afraid to disclose their medical conditions because they’re afraid of being non-retained,” Bear explained. “We usually have an idea of what the result can be as soon as they tell us their medical conditions. We are working hard to change the mentality and let the wing know we’re here to advocate for the member and help them rather than see them be kicked out.”
The medical readiness of air crew, who require flight physicals and waivers for chronic conditions, is a major Medical Standard Office effort. Bear said the office works very closely with their regular Air Force counterparts at 673d Medical Group, reviewing bi-weekly medically unqualified flyers and working to get them back in the air.
“We track when their waivers are coming due, so we can reach out and get any pertinent documentation for waiver submission,” Bear said.
Another medical action that might be foreign to regular Air Force Airmen, because they are always covered by Tricare, and all injuries are considered in the line of duty as an active duty member, is line-of-duty determination. Torres Román explained how an LOD covers drill-status Guardsmen who get hurt while on duty and drive the treatment plan to ensure the member gets the care needed.
“The line of duty gives the member the tools and resources needed to get adequate medical care,” Torres Román said.
Bear and Torres work all the moving parts to ensure members are cared for appropriately. This can include working with the 673d Medical Group, off-base agencies, Tricare, Defense Health Agency, and Veterans Affairs.
If the injury is determined to be in the line of duty, the Guard member’s health needs will be covered by the military.
“It allows the service member to get care at the 673d Medical Group or an approved medical care facility for one year from the date their injury was reported,” Torres Román said. “If members have an approved AF 348 (informal LOD), they can receive care at the VA for that specific diagnosis after the year mark.”
Torres Román said LODs and other medical actions take care of drill-status Guardsmen, and the payoff goes far beyond retention numbers.
“It’s important to us that the DSGs understand how important they are for the wing,” she said. “It’s not that you’re just coming here for one weekend a month. You are an important asset to the wing, and what you are doing impacts everyone.”
Additionally, Bear and Torres Román assist with maintaining the overall individual medical readiness status of the wing, which includes annual flight physicals, reviewing annual preventive health assessment questionnaires, initiating health waivers and medical clearances, deployment clearances and waivers, and keeping up with daily medical requests that come through the organization email.
Torres Román said she is pleased to know that her hours of processing paperwork and attending meetings pay off for the wing’s operational mission. She offered the example of pararescuemen (PJs) who are required to be medically ready to fly anywhere in the world.
“When I see the news that the PJs rescued someone, I take pride in knowing I helped make that happen in my own way,” she said. “On the admin side, I’m supporting them, so they can save a life.”