OST embeds in 19th AW units to better Airmen’s physical, mental health

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kristine M. Gruwell
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- In 2018, former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein rolled out a service-wide initiative aimed at revitalizing Air Force squadrons.

“The squadron is the beating heart of the United States Air Force; our most essential team,” Goldfein wrote in an open letter to Airmen. “Our vision demands that squadrons be highly capable, expeditionary teams who can successfully defend our nation’s interests in both today’s and tomorrow’s complex operating environments.”

The 19th Medical Group is supporting that targeted effort with the implementation of a relatively new health care model at the squadron level, called Operational Support Teams (OSTs). The overarching objective of these teams are to embed into squadrons to improve individual health and unit performance.

Locally, the OST program has a total of four members: a data manager and team lead, a strength and conditioning specialist, a licensed clinical social worker, and a physical therapist.

“All members of our team work together to gain the trust in the unit so we can help them with their challenges,” said Aaron Leach, 19th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron OST strength and conditioning specialist. “Gaining the trust of a squadron can be one of the most difficult aspects of our job, but it’s important so that we can improve their health.”

Each team member has an integral role within the unit. The strength and conditioning specialist assists with adaptive physical fitness as well as helping to improve fitness test scores; the physical therapist helps members overcome physical injuries; the social worker is available for any mental health struggles an Airman may have; and the team lead and data manager gathers information on the improvement of the unit.

“With each role, we want to disprove the negative stigma of seeking help for stress, whether that be physical or mental,” said Cesar Alvarez, 19th OMRS OST program manager. “We have a social worker on staff to fill the gap where he can meet with members and talk with them to ensure they are taking care of themselves mentally while also giving them the tools they need to help cope with stress.”

The OST was assigned the 19th OMRS as their pilot unit from October 2019 through November 2019, with a plan to embed into the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron next to begin training and assisting Airmen within the squadron.

Prior to embedding with the 19th OMRS, the squadron had the highest number of musculoskeletal injuries on the installation. The OST implemented a five week adaptive physical training program, resulting in measurable success, with the squadron now below the active-duty Air Force average.

“Overall, I believe that this is a really good program,” said Staff Sgt. Jesse Kot, 19th Aerospace Medicine Squadron and OST program participate. “It amazed me how improperly I was lifting weights and doing other exercises. I found that most of the stuff that I learned will not only help me out now, but also in the future.”

Unfortunately, COVID-19 affected their process of embedding with the 19th LRS, forcing them to adjust their procedures and rotational schedule to accommodate for the pandemic.

“When we went to embed with 19th LRS, we had to adapt the way we did things since we weren’t allowed to have more than 10 people in a room, so instead of doing group PT [physical training], Mr. Leach had to do a lot of individual appointments with members,” Alvarez said.

Due to the delay, the OST extended their time with this unit until the end of September 2020. Following the 19th LRS, the OST will embed within the 19th Communications Squadron and further support other units in the future that may be struggling with physical and mental health.

“Staying healthy is very important, so we have to break into the shell of each person in order to learn what they need assistance on,” Leach said. “When we find out each person’s weak spot, we can give them the tools to strengthen it in the long-run.”