Squadron takes team approach to medical care

By Sarah Meyer: Cannon Connections

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE —The 27th Special Operations Aerospace Medical Squadron takes a team approach to operational medicine with five divisions that all work together.
Those divisions include flight medicine, public health, bioenvironmental engineering, optometry and dental.
Lt. Col. Jimmie D. Bailey II serves as commander of the 27th Special Operations Aerospace Medical Squadron.
“We’re responsible primarily for care of individuals on flying status or special duty and their families,” Bailey said. “But we help the entire base population.”
The squadron includes a medical clinic that is open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with personnel on call 24 hours a day for each of the sections, Bailey said.
The difference between the SOAMS and a civilian medical clinic is that “we not only operate a practice here every day, we also deploy to different parts of the world on a regular basis,” including Iraq and Afghanistan, Bailey said.
“We’re very good at being able to move critically ill or injured personnel from far forward back to traditional hospital care,” he said. Personnel also are trained to use weapons, either a 9 mm or an M-16.
Maj. Walter “Sparky” Matthews, chief of aeromedical services for the SOAMS, is most interested in flight medicine, but he said all aspects of the squadron work together.
“We take an integrated team approach to almost everything we do,” he said.
Matthews’ job is to “make sure fliers are qualified to do their job in the air.” That includes not only pilots, but also flight crew members.
With tight medical standards, any weakness or illness could disqualify a crew member, at least temporarily pending treatment.
“Our main focus is making sure our warriors are ready to go to war,” even when it’s not wartime, Matthews said.
“What sets us apart (from other military services) is we make sure if a phone call comes in, we’re ready to go. We’re keeping our folks ready to go at a moment’s notice,” Matthews said.
Flight medicine deals with airmen of “normal physiology in an abnormal environment,” he said. Flight crew members are taught how to deal with that abnormal environment, physically and mentally, with medications if needed.
Flight medicine also helps crew members with nutrition, sleep schedules and flight schedules.
Matthews said that flight medicine provides “a bridge between medicine and operations. We’re just as much air crew as doctors.”
Flight medicine doctors often practice what he refers to as “barstool medicine,” discussing many potential medical issues with personnel away from the office.
While all airmen are important, flight medicine focuses on the flight crew — “the small group of people at the tip of the spear,” said Matthews. “We are the whetstone that sharpens the tip of the spear.”
“It’s exceedingly important that those individuals don’t have a failure while they’re flying,” Matthews said.
Flight medicine includes three ambulances — one at the medical services building, always ready to respond to a flightline emergency, but also available for emergency calls on base.
Matthews said the ambulance crew can get to the flightline in “maybe one minute.”
The ambulance also goes out to Melrose Bombing Range for emergency medical standby.
Cannon’s ambulance service is first on the scene on base, but Clovis city emergency medical services assist in transporting sick or injured people to the hospital if needed.
“We have to work very closely with our city, county and state counterparts,” Bailey said. “We couldn’t ask for better cooperation.”
On March 14, the base clinic is hosting an open house, by invitation, for area medical providers and emergency personnel “to improve a very good working relationship,” Bailey said.
A synopsis of other operational medicine divisions:
Dental — makes sure a flier is up to date on dental care, so that no foreseeable problems occur while he is deployed.
Optometry — makes sure a flier’s vision is 20-20 or as close as possible; corrects treatable vision problems.
Public health — ensures food quality, on base and overseas, by inspecting food sources and making sure food is healthy and prepared in a safe manner. Also keeps track of “individual medical readiness” with a database that tracks medical care. During deployment, makes sure that sanitary facilities are correctly located and cared for.
Bioenvironmental engineering — responsible for industrial hygiene, water quality and air quality in buildings.