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Guatemalan air force gleans medical knowledge from U.S. Airmen

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern)
Airmen helped one of its partner nations gain a greater understanding of the importance of military readiness by taking part in a medical subject matter expert exchange event.

During a weeklong event the Airmen shared proven flight medicine standardization practices with members of the Guatemalan air force that will help keep their pilots and crews safe while on flying missions.

Four Airmen from the Arkansas Air National Guard and two from 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) took part in an ongoing effort to assist the Guatemalan air force in expanding and enhancing their military medical capabilities, while also emphasizing the need for standardized safety measures.

Five briefings were given on Wednesday to demonstrate and explain why some U.S. Air Force medical standards already being implemented in other countries.

"Australia, several European countries, Saudi Arabia, etc. are beginning to use [or] adopt many of the U.S. Air Force's aeromedical standards as their own," said Lt. Col. Eric Burdge, Air Surgeon for the Arkansas State Air National Guard. "They've adopted and modified some of our standards to fit their needs because they've recognized a need to ensure their pilots are medically cleared for safety reasons."

"You don't want to risk your life or your crew's life because you were tired or because you took a medication where the side effects caused you to have a delayed reaction while flying," added Maj. Michael Kittell, 189th Arkansas Air National Guard. "Standards are in place to ensure the mission is able to be completed and to keep everyone safe."

The briefings covered a variety of topics including individual medical readiness, public health, the history of flight medicine, aeromedical standards, as well as crew resource management.

"A large part of our success with implementing medical initiatives throughout the U.S. Air Force is education," said Chief Master Sgt. Billy Ruhland, 189th Airlift Wing, Arkansas Air National Guard. "We educate our Airmen as to why they need certain tests and/or immunizations ... which makes them feel like part of the team, and helps build trust between physician and patient."

A common theme among all of the briefing topics was the need for education and personal responsibility.

"Part of being a military member [in the U.S.] means we have a personal responsibility to maintain a level of medical readiness," said Burdge. "There is just so much we can do as military doctors. It's important to our personnel that they are the ones responsible for maintaining qualifying standards. For example, they need to inform us of when they take over the counter medications. We don't want them taking a medication that is going affect their reaction time while they are flying. The pilot may end up not being able to fly until her/she is off their medication ... but it's more import for them and their crew to be safe rather than risk their lives and damage to equipment."

The briefings were so successful that the Guatemalan air force has asked the Airmen to present the briefings to additional audiences.

"I think that the information presented today is not just beneficial to our medical staff, but also for our pilots," said Col. Luis Salazar, Guatemalan air force hospital director.