COVID Presents a New Set of Challenges for DOD Environmental Health > Air Education and Training Command > Article View


Total Force Fitness is a fundamental part of the Department of Defense’s National Defense Strategy.

Helping to “create a more lethal force,” Total Force Fitness focuses on a service member’s overall health throughout their career, including the physical, environmental, spiritual, psychological, social and financial components.

The physical environment and the ability to perform tasks in a multitude of operational environments is one of the most important factors to consider in maintaining overall fitness. This includes providing the appropriate equipment or reducing excessive exposure to natural elements, such as heat or cold, or chemical, biological or radiological factors.

Environmental health within the DOD includes monitoring factors such as temperature, air, water, and soil, as well as identifying issues that could impact military and civilian employees both based and within local communities.

“At this time, we are obviously concerned about the impacts of cold weather on our workers, and we want to make sure they are using the correct PPE (personal protective equipment) to be able to accomplish the mission. They need to be given gloves and parkas and the types of equipment to be able to continue this mission,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Elisa Hammer, environmental health program manager for the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States. Air Force. “Also if it’s hot we want to make sure people are enforcing work-rest cycles, hydrating and staying in the shade or maybe even recommending ice packs if not Not possible.”

Hammer explained how the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new set of unique operational challenges. She cited the examples of airmen on the flight line or sailors on the flight deck, where social distancing isn’t always possible, but “masking” can also be an issue.

“In order for them to do their job in a COVID environment, they need to mask up,” Hammer said. “The problem with masking is that if it’s a disposable mask or a mask that could fly off, that’s a big deal. It’s FOD (foreign object debris ).

Ideally, service members should always try to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice — wear a mask, maintain social distancing, wash hands frequently and avoid crowds as much as possible, she said.

For Hammer’s office, Total Force Fitness applies to work and play, inside and outside of an environment where COVID is a concern.

“We want to make sure people live, work and play in clean air,” Hammer said.

This includes minimizing risk factors associated with wildfires, sandstorms, and other local threats, and providing recommendations to base or deployed commanders on how to mitigate those risks.

“It could be something like contamination from an old fuel spill that’s still in the ground. We want to make sure people who are running or jogging aren’t doing it on that part of a facility,” she said.

“What we really specialize in is trying to identify those threats and making sure that there is no receiver, i.e. no human being, on the other. end of this threat who could be exposed to this contamination.”

Drinking water is also one of his main concerns.

“Of course we want to provide clean drinking water,” Hammer said. “We are following state, federal, DOD and Air Force guidelines to ensure we are meeting health standards.”

This is particularly important in deployed locations, where bottled water or drinking water tanks should be provided to avoid using untested local sources.

Hammer said she anticipates positive results from lessons learned from the pandemic.

“The CDC recommendations are temporary, but I think it changes us permanently. It really got us thinking about how to provide clean indoor air,” she said. “I think a lot of people are thinking about the future and how we can prevent another COVID or something similar. What can we do with our facilities? How do we maintain or upgrade ventilation systems and what can we do differently? How much outdoor air should be introduced into the indoor environment? How can we improve circulation? There have been many good studies on modifying HVAC systems and industry standards are being changed and updated. »

Hammer said if she could make just one recommendation regarding environmental health, it would be to get out as much as possible.


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