July 6, 2012

Team, leadership successfully draw down preventive health at Joint Base Balad

by Capt. Joseph Ball
56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron

Preventive health members from Luke Air Force Base, Lackland AFB, Texas, and Kirtland AFB, N.M., were lucky enough to have the opportunity to deploy during the closure of vaunted Joint Base Balad during the June through November 2011 rotation. For some, it was their first deployment; for others, it was another in a long line of deployments. Either way, it took several attributes of good leadership at all levels for the PH team to achieve a successful drawdown of JBB.

The first key attribute was flexibility. “Flexibility is the key to Air Power.” We’ve all heard it. As a team, public health and bioenvironmental engineering have learned to embrace the old cliché. While our long-term mission focus (preventive health) did not change, our short-term mission focus shifted on a daily basis.

Contracts on base were extended, facilities were closed and reopened, offices were moved, and equipment was transplanted to units in need throughout the area of responsibility.

Deadlines were established and re-established. Immediate action was taken to squash any potential disease outbreaks which threatened the health of the troops. Thousands of sand flies and mosquitoes were meticulously counted one by one. Equipment was used to ensure the air quality was safe, and unknown hazardous chemicals were identified.

The PH team was placed on details outside the normal scope of our responsibility. We bent but we didn’t break. At any given time, 13,000 people depended on clean water, healthy food, clean restrooms and an atmosphere free of illness-causing conditions. Without flexibility, the mission would not have been accomplished.

The second attribute needed for a successful drawdown was resiliency. We were in an inhospitable environment in an inhospitable climate.

Instead of being surrounded by the comforts of home, we were surrounded by people outside the gate who wished to do us harm every day. Instead of cheery warmth from friends and family, we endured temperatures exceeding 128 degrees. We lived an increasingly expeditionary lifestyle watching the last of our amenities disappear like the dimming light of a setting sun.

These stressors were definitely above and beyond what we typically experienced back at our permanent duty stations. And through it all, we pressed on. It’s what we do. And don’t be fooled into thinking resiliency means doing it on your own. Resiliency means knowing when to turn to fellow Airmen – our wingmen – to ask for help. Without resiliency, the mission would not have been accomplished.

The third attribute needed for a successful drawdown was teamwork. PH worked hand-in-hand with many entities on JBB on a daily basis.

Whether it was monitoring an atmosphere for hazards, inspecting a dining facility for sanitation, or simply lending a hand when someone had too much to carry, teamwork allowed us to achieve the mission. Not only did the PH team collaborate with others all across the base, but we also worked together to heighten our skills within our own team. Many times during this deployment, public health and bioenvironmental engineering helped each other with duties outside their normal scope. Public health learned to water sample while bio learned to conduct vector trapping. Without teamwork, the mission would not have been accomplished.

Although there were many more attributes needed for a successful drawdown of JBB, the final one was attitude.

Attitude was the basis for all the other attributes — the foundation if you will. Without the proper attitude, the PH team would not have been as flexible or resilient and would not have been as good of team members as they were. Without a good attitude, the mission would not have been accomplished. Some people are gifted athletes, some are gifted musicians, and others are gifted in different areas. We are all born with differing abilities, but attitude is something we are all gifted with. To be successful, we have only to choose a good one.

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