Preventive medicine keeps Soldiers safe
July 28, 2014
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif.- Across the world, Soldiers eat in dining facilities, shower, drink from fountains and live in shelters provided by the United States Army. Though the average Soldier rarely considers it, there must be someone around to uphold the standards for these essential things: preventive medicine Soldiers.
During Warrior Exercise (WAREX) 91 14-03 at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, Soldiers from the 792nd Medical Detachment from Lubbock, Texas, are tackling this job with the help of Capt. Patrick L. McClellan and Spc. Brittany J. Dorrill from the 988th Medical Detachment out of Round Rock, Texas.
During WAREX, the preventive medicine team's mission is two-fold; serve the Soldiers participating in a real-world capacity, and train to be better at their job.
"My job is [like] the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) of the Army," said Dorrill. "I deal with food safety, disease control, and operational safety."
Preventive medicine teams have a variety of methods for evaluating an installation. They are conducting inspections of living quarters and dining facilities, testing food and water, or surveying rodent and insect populations. Their goal is always to create the healthiest space possible for their fellow Soldiers, said Dorrill.
One of the team's many tasks is ensuring that all consumable water sources have acceptable levels of chlorine. Chlorine levels are important because some chlorine will kill bacteria, but too much will make Soldiers sick, said Spc. Bruce J. Gonzalez of the 792nd Medical Detachment out of Lubbock, Texas.
Similarly, the team tests water used in showers, hand wash stations and shave stations for turbidity. When water is not clear because of sediment, it is considered turbid. Using turbid water increases the likelihood of spreading viruses, parasites and bacteria.
"When you come out of the shower you want to be clean right?" asked Dorrill. "Well, that is something we do."
During this iteration of WAREX, the 792nd has experienced the effects of turbidity first-hand. Preventive medicine Soldiers inspect all drinking water storage containers before they can be put to use. One trailer-borne water container, often referred to as a water buffalo, was used prior to inspection and Soldiers began to fall ill, explained Dorrill. When word reached the preventive medicine team, it immediately inspected the water buffalo and discovered that rust from the inside was causing turbidity and making Soldiers sick.
The team is also charged with ensuring that the food Soldiers eat is acceptable. To do this, preventive medicine Soldiers inspect the kitchen areas and the area where the dishes and utensils are sanitized. During the inspections, a preventive medicine team member will check the temperature of the sterilization area, which consists of several large vats of boiling water, and of any meat being cooked to verify that they reach the temperature required to kill off bacteria and disease.
"Living quarters also make the list," explained Gonzalez. "We have to make sure that the Soldiers are keeping their tents and themselves clean."
To this end, the team periodically walks through barracks and tents to ensure that there are no trash or bugs. While it inspects the quarters, the team also inspects the surrounding area for anything that may attract bugs or wildlife.
"We also do insect and wildlife surveys," said McClellan, an entomologist and executive officer of the 988th. "Bugs are my thing."
Preventive medicine teams are also responsible for vector surveys. A vector is any organism that transmits a virus or disease. Anytime Soldiers move into a new area, preventive medicine personnel conduct surveys to determine if there are any vectors present and how to remove them.
When conducting surveys, the team catches and documents as many of the target organisms as possible, whether it is mosquitoes, ground squirrels or any other animal. The Soldier tasked with documenting the procedure records the type or species of the organism caught, along with any diseases or sickness that it is carrying based on the results of tests the team performs.
"Here on Fort Hunter Liggett, there are ground squirrels and mosquitoes everywhere," said Gonzalez. "We have to make sure they are not carrying rabies or West Nile [virus] or anything else."
Though the Soldiers on the preventive medicine team have a real-world mission to fulfill, they are still WAREX participants. The team members go through tactical training including urban assault training and entry control point training as well as gaining experience within their occupation.
"I like being able to actually apply the skills I have learned," said Gonzalez. "I don't get to do all of this a lot and there is no better way to learn than in the field. To me, this training is invaluable."
Even when preventive medicine Soldiers are doing their job well, they are often overlooked. They have the power to help make sure that every Soldier out there has a chance to perform at their highest level and finish the mission.
"Our job is preventing Soldiers from getting sick," explained McClellan. "We will never stop them all [disease and infection], but we do everything in our power to stop as many as possible."