The Operational Support Team helps Airmen at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Robert Allen Cooke III
  • 355th Wing Public Affairs

Physical and mental stressors impact the workload of U.S. Airmen around the world every day, and although there are different techniques to deal with the impact of these stressors on an individual basis, incorporating streamlined educational and therapeutic processes into these service members’ development is a collaborative process. Fortunately, there is a team of dedicated individuals on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base who aim to offer structural therapy and educational opportunities to the units in need. 

Composed of four cooperative experts who dive into these therapy techniques, along with physical training and organizational practices, the Operational Support Team actively aids mission readiness by providing reactionary care to Airmen in need.

“The operational support team is made up of a multidisciplinary team of both civilians and active duty,” said Megan DeHaven, the integrated support team specialist of the OST. “Our team gives us a nice spread of different areas of specialty, but then it also provides a different perspective to have that combined team of both active duty and civilians.”

As the OST’s specialist, DeHaven coordinates and organizes the team's efforts to determine which squadrons are applicable to their training, confirming times and locations for their requested sessions. DeHaven collects and analyzes all the findings from OST to make an actionable plan. 

“The intent of the OST is to utilize data and determine which squadrons at DM need our help, so which ones have the highest muscular-skeletal or mental health profiles,” DeHaven said. “Our intent is to influence and decrease those profiles over time. We embed for about three to four months and then leave onto the next squadron. Our intent is to get to as many squadrons as we can at Davis-Monthan to help improve mental health and physical performance.” 

Airmen can opt into base-wide classes at any time, regardless of if OST is at their unit. DeHaven explained the purpose of one of those base-wide classes the team had planned; it was available to Airmen who were invested in injury prevention. 

“We’re here to support the base, not just shop classes for where we’re embedded,” DeHaven said. “Something that we see a lot within the base is a lot of people are getting hurt, so we want to teach them how to prevent those injuries ahead of time.”

Injury prevention is a critical aspect of physical well-being the OST tackles with its work. This is due to the large number of manual labor Air Force Specialty Codes, or AFSC’s, of Airmen on base. Fortunately, there is an OST Team member who specifically specializes in injury prevention. 

U.S. Air Force Capt. Spencer Carrier, 355th Medical Group OST flight commander and physical therapist, teaches classes on the subject of injury prevention and helps individuals who may have incurred an injury during their shifts. 

“My role is to help treat the Airmen with any injuries that they may have,” said Carrier. "This helps get them back to where they want to be to be able to perform their job and return to duty.”

Elaborating upon his role on the team, Carrier explained how he helps with injury prevention classes and direct patient care. Carrier actively meets with Airmen who have pains as a result of injury or overexertion on the job. He aims to help those Airmen manage their pains to better optimize their work performance. 

The OST also looks into areas of the body that may be at risk for injury due to the workload of a specific AFSC. 

“For example, if we’re working with a group, they may have a lot of shoulder injuries or shoulder pain from working overhead,” Carrier said. “We can do some classes that target injury prevention specifically.”

Outside of the awareness, OST provides guidance on general fitness and nutrition practices that aid Airmen in reaching their personal fitness goals. Finding solutions for the Airmens’ physical needs often starts with an assessment of their body composition. By measuring physiological factors such as body fat and skeletal muscle mass, the OST can make evaluations supporting physical growth and revitalization.  

“One of the classes we’ve hosted is called an in-body assessment,” DeHaven said. “The human performance center has a bioelectrical impedance, meaning it sends an electrical signal through the body and it prints out your results.”

As Airmen gain confidence in injury prevention and develop strategies to promote their physical well-being, they may seek guidance from the team's strength and conditioning coach. 

Adam Whittaker, the strength and conditioning coach of the OST, works toward injury prevention goals with Carrier. His primary function is to increase the physical performance of his pupils. 

“The mission for the strength and conditioning for OST is to find the Airmen who are in need of the most help when it comes to physical performance, especially when it comes to PT, ” Whittaker said. “We have so many different Airmen who do so many different jobs. We want to find the Airman that is having the most trouble with their job and their job performance, their physical performance and PT.”

“We try to meet that Arman where they’re at,” Whittaker continued. “We try to elevate their own physical performance by creating individualized programming when it comes to possible injuries they’ve had in the past or personal goals they are trying to achieve, not just on the job, but like I said, with PT improvement and PT scores.”

Whittaker also works with the Unit Fitness Program Managers, and the Physical Training Leaders, of each unit to enhance their PT programs. If the unit does not have a PT program, the OST will meet the leaders and managers where they are at and provide suggestions that could lead to an embedded educational process. 

Training equipment and preferences come into play with each embedment, so the OST tailors its physical readiness programs based on equipment that is available to the units.

The mental health aspect of the OST’s functionality, the team’s mental health provider, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David Weller of the 355th Medical Group teaches classes pertaining to stress management and healthy thinking. Weller is the designated social worker and mental health provider for the OST, as well as the director of integrated medical programs for the 355th Medical Group.

 “I have the role of being the mental health provider on the Operational Support Team, and so I do all things related to social and mental wellness,” Weller said. “I teach classes like stress management, sleep improvement, couples communication, healthy thinking, whatever the unit specifically requires.”

Before interacting with a specific unit on base, the OST will request information about the unit’s particular stressors with a survey. The survey is a starting point that leads to the recommendation of classes that could improve the well-being of the unit. 

“We send out a survey at the beginning of embedment with a unit to find out what their specific stressors are, and we can tailor that care specifically to them,” Weller said. “We also partner with other helping agencies on base: the mental health clinic, family advocacy, true north providers, health and performance, and the nutritionists. We can really tailor that care to whatever the Airmen are concerned about.”

As units coordinate with the OST to establish a baseline for potential embedment, the team members consider every factor pertaining to mental and physical health that they can incorporate into their educational approach. Keeping both the physical and mental components in mind, Weller stresses that the OST brings care to the Airmen in the workplace.

“The units who need the most help are going to get looked at first,” Weller said. “We’re going to try and do everything we can to minimize any type of disruption to their work day, while still providing the care that is necessary to keep them fit to fight.

Weller remarked that working with the OST is an incredible experience. He said this type of care is long overdue and that he is really happy to be a part of a great solution to meet the Airmen’s needs. 

For more information about the OST, or to request their support, contact their ORG box here: