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Embedded Reserve Medics: Citizen Airmen help provide care throughout the newest numbered Air Force

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 33rd Network Warfare Squadron conduct cyber operations at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Aug. 27, 2019. The 33rd NWS utilizes a cyber weapon system that employs more than 40 tools and applications. The “12N12” initiative aims to reduce this number to 12 in 12 months. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. R.J. Biermann)

Airmen from 16th Air Force's 33rd Network Warfare Squadron conduct cyber operations at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in August. Reserve Citizen Airmen are an integral part of 16th AF's initiative to embed dedicated medical, mental health and religious affairs personnel in its operational units. (Tech. Sgt. R.J. Biermann)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Placing a high priority on the physical, mental and spiritual health of its team of professional Airmen, the Air Force's newest numbered Air Force is embedding dedicated medical, mental health and religious affairs personnel in its operational units. And Reserve Citizen Airmen are an important part of these new embedded teams.

16th Air Force was created on Oct. 11, 2019, when the Air Force integrated two existing numbered Air Forces, 24th AF and 25th AF. This first-of-its-kind numbered Air Force is known as the Air Force's information warfare numbered Air Force. It joins the capabilities of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, cyber warfare, electronic warfare and information operations across the conflict continuum to ensure the Air Force is fast, lethal and fully integrated in both competition and in war.

More than 32,000 16th AF Airmen perform highly advanced tactical and operational duties at the cutting edge of technological innovation and directly support the fight in air, space and cyber battlespaces around the clock.

Recent research studies by the Rand Corporation, the 711th Human Performance Wing and the Air Force Research Laboratory found higher levels of stress among ISR and cyber operators when compared to other segments of the Air Force population.

From this research came a recommendation for dedicated medical, mental health and religious affairs personnel embedded in operational units, consistent with the Air Force recognition of the value of its most important weapon system - the human system.

The 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, is one of a growing number of units utilizing these embedded teams.

"The Airman Resilience Team is genuine, deeply passionate and invested in the lives of the 363rd ISR Airmen and it shows," said Staff Sgt. Opal Kocher, 363rd ISRW target systems analyst, in a recent Air Combat Command news article. "They have an integrated, whole-person approach and seek to help every person in every way possible."

Embedded care also makes it easier for Airmen to develop trusting relationships with support staff, leading them to open up and seek care earlier, Col. Timothy Butler, ACC command chaplain, said in the article.

As Col. Robert Kent, 16th AF command surgeon, and his team work to develop and staff these 16th AF embedded medical teams, they are looking to Reserve Citizen Airmen individual mobilization augmentees for help. Kent's own IMA, Col. Julie Clement, who recently retired, was critical in helping integrate IMAs into the embedded teams.

"The benefit she brought to my team was her ability to understand the Reserve in an effort to maximize the benefit Reservists provide to 16th AF, as well as the unique demands of Reservist IMAs working within active-duty operational units," Kent said.

Clement also provided strong continuity in the transition between Kent's predecessor and his arrival on the job, ensuring momentum of this critical effort was maintained.

"Overall, IMAs bring great expertise and great background," Kent said. "Most of the IMAs assigned to these squadrons have prior-service experience. This, coupled with civilian clinical and operational provider experience, gives them a very unique skill set that is a great benefit to these wings."

The 70th ISRW, based at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, is one organization using IMAs - like Maj. Lea Johansen - on its embedded medical team. Johansen, a psychologist, transitioned from active duty to become an IMA in 2017. Her work with the 70th ISRW was not her first experience as an embedded medic providing operational medicine support. During her active-duty service, she was assigned to the White House where she performed a similar role.

"Reservists do a great job of augmenting the full-time staff, providing needed support to the Airmen of this wing," she said.

When asked about a typical day for her, she said, "We really follow a 'hallway medicine model,' holding casual conversations and building trust with the Airmen in the organization."

Johansen said being embedded helps eliminate barriers to seeking care.

"In the ISR world, Airmen are working in secure spaces and their job requirements make it difficult to leave their building," she said. "By being embedded in the wing, Airmen open up and interventions occur much quicker."

She added there is a sense of trust operators may not get without embedded support.

"When we can bring services to them it gets them back on the mission quicker," she said.

Maj. Terrance Walker is another IMA psychologist supporting resiliency within the 70th ISRW. Like Johansen, Walker came to this position with prior active-duty service. He has been an IMA for about two and a half years.

In addition to his active-duty service, where one of his previous positions was chief of a mental health clinic, he brings additional unique experience from his private practice to his embedded medical team.

"Although IMAs are not full-time resources, they are regular faces the Airmen of the ISR wings see on a regular basis," Walker said. "This places the IMAs on these teams in the great position to serve these Airmen in performing consultations and evaluations."

Lt. Col. Robert Baltzer is the wing surgeon for the 70th ISRW. He is the senior active-duty medical representative for his organization and leads the medics on these embedded teams.

"We provide small 'c' counseling and small 'c' care, meaning more informal support of Airmen in the wing in an attempt to build trust and rapport with the wing Airmen to better address their needs," Baltzer said.

When asked about the benefits of having Reserve medics working for him, he said they contribute directly to the readiness and deployability of Airmen due to the relationships they have built, getting people out the door when called.

Success in any effort cannot be accomplished without strong leadership support. Brig Gen. Sharon Bannister, command surgeon for Air Combat Command, provided feedback on serving Airmen through operational medical support.

"The Air Force Medical Service is committed to transforming to meet the challenges of those we serve," she said. "Operational medical support, whether it be through embedded medics or creation of operation medical readiness squadrons, is intended to provide readiness-focused care to our uniformed personnel regardless of where they work to ensure the mission. Our goal is health through prevention which is best achieved through patient/provider partnerships. This effort is best achieved by leveraging our Reserve and Guard components as we are stronger when we work together." #ReserveReady #ReserveResilient #ReserveReform