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Aerospace Physiology Helps Keep Members Effective
by USAF Senior Airman Jacob Morgan - July 22, 2013

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UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - Members of the Air Force are constantly looking for new ways to be more effective through innovative ideas and processes. But what if the answer to individual effectiveness, both in our personal and professional lives is as simple as small changes to our daily routines?

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brett VanderPas, left, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing chief of flight safety, speaks with U.S. Air Force Capt. Zach Garrett, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group aerospace physiologist, in the safety office at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, July 10, 2013. The safety office and the aerospace physiologist work closely together to monitor trends preventable by changing human factors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)
U.S. Air Force Capt. Brett VanderPas, left, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing chief of flight safety, speaks with U.S. Air Force Capt. Zach Garrett, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group aerospace physiologist, in the safety office at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, July 10, 2013. The safety office and the aerospace physiologist work closely together to monitor trends preventable by changing human factors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

According to Capt. Zach Garrett, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group aerospace physiologist, slightly modifying a daily routine can significantly improve or worsen a member's effectiveness during the day.

"Most of us operate around the low 70 percent to high 80 percent range of effectiveness throughout the day," said Garrett, who is deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.

"Fatigue is always present in our lives. The extra stresses on our lives while deployed magnify our problems and can keep us from being as efficient as we could be at work."

Garrett, who is only the second aerospace physiologist ever assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, is tasked with continuing to build a new program. It will consist of three major functions: providing training to aircrew and commanders on human factors, teaming with the safety office to watch trends of human factor deficiencies and working with the host nation to build their own programs.

Aircrew training is mostly for altitude exposure and human performance threats by virtue of placing the human element in an aircraft. Commander training consists of running the numbers on sleep and work schedules to determine how to maximize effectiveness.

"Each base has its own particular human factors issues," said Garrett. "Some bases have high g-force aircraft. Some have long duration aircraft. Some have 24/7 operations on the flightline while others don't. It all depends on the environment you're in."

The largest areas of concern with the 380th AEW are sports injuries and fatigue caused by heat stress and being away from home.

Garrett's job, which is highly dependent on the situation, is to analyze trends and find problems often triggered by diverse human factors and the environment. The wing safety office is a great source of information for an aerospace physiologist. Garrett can analyze trends showing what may be costing the Air Force money or endangering people.

According to Capt. Brett VanderPas, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing chief of flight safety and a pilot, interacting with the aerospace physiologist has its benefits on the operational side and in mishap prevention.

"From the operational side, we assess risk in human factors that might affect the mission such as pilot rest and pilot nutrition. As pilots, we try to mitigate these before we fly and assess them after we land," said VanderPas. "In mishap prevention, the human factors consultants help us identify not what mistakes the pilot or crew made, but why they are making them. In the area of responsibility, we have significant risks due to long missions, high operations tempo and worse living conditions. Identifying the problem is only a small portion of mishap prevention, identifying why it happened is essential."

The 380th AEW has a great safety record, so we are looking into the smaller things that could affect the larger, said Garrett. For example, heat stress affects members here to a manageable degree but coupled with long work hours, caffeine effects and poor sleep habits members can be so exhausted that it could cause a mishap.

Garrett's third task during his deployment will be helping the host nation develop their aerospace physiology program.

"They are trying to determine how to use their program; it's a niche job that they currently have medical doctors accomplishing," said Garrett. "We want to show them the benefits of having a dedicated aerospace physiologist, develop a deeper understanding for each other. The job is full of intangible benefits, but we have seen results."

By USAF Senior Airman Jacob Morgan
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2013

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