FORT SILL, Okla. (May 30, 2019) -- May is Better Hearing and Speech Month and while protecting your hearing has always been important at Fort Sill, there is more to better hearing that just sitting in the hearing booth once a year.

"Our hearing is the only sense that is 360 degrees; it is always on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," said 1st Lt. Bailey Loesch, doctor of audiology and chief, Fort Sill Army Hearing Program. "Hearing directly affects the readiness of our Soldiers and if not protected, can affect their deployability. Hearing loss from noise is 100 percent preventable, and your ears are easily protected if you have the right equipment and use it properly."

A medical emergency is typically defined as danger to life, limb, or eyesight, but in a combat environment the ability to hear your enemy is just as important as the ability to see them. There has always been a longstanding stereotype in the Fires community that artillerymen and air defenders have poor hearing due to the nature of the job they do.

"If your ability to send, receive, and respond to command and warning signals is diminished, it can compromise your safety and the well-being of your unit," Loesch said. "If you cannot hear or understand the commands that are coming to you, either in a training or combat environment, it directly impacts your mission success and the safety of yourself and others.

"At Fort Sill every Soldier will receive an annual hearing health brief, and be properly fit for hearing protection. Any hearing protection other than earmuffs or the yellow foam earplugs that everyone is familiar with has to be fitted to the individual by someone who is trained to do so to ensure proper effectiveness," said Loesch.

Earlier this month Soldiers and leaders from 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery, had the opportunity to conduct their hearing brief and hearing protection fitting. Over 100 Soldiers received a short brief and then were fitted for hearing protection by Loesch and her audiology staff from Reynolds.

Lt. Col. Jim Raines, 2-18th FA commander, was on hand to hear Loesch's brief and to provide command emphasis for hearing conservation.

"Lt. Loesch and RAHC are providing readiness capability for our organization ensuring that we are prepared for deployment and that we are ready to do our mission when called upon," said Raines. "As artillerymen we have a tradition of not being able to hear well, and I have seen over the years a greater concern from the Army not just for hearing, but for the overall health and welfare of Soldiers. Programs like this make sure we maintain our hearing over our lifetime and ensure that we don't have to be concerned with hearing loss later in life."

Loesch pointed out that the two top claims made to Veterans Affairs by Soldiers leaving the military are hearing loss and tinnitus, with tinnitus being the leading service-related disability among U.S. veterans.

"Hearing loss from noise is preventable but what I often see is that in tactical environments or in real world training, Soldiers will make the decision to not use proper hearing protection to maintain better situational awareness," said Loesch.

HEARING PROTECTION ADVANCES
Advancements in hearing protection technology such as the Tactical Communication and Protective Systems (TCAPS) have helped Soldiers to simultaneously maintain situational awareness while protecting their hearing on the battlefield.

"Equipment like TCAPS are available to units and it is great that leadership is willing to spend quite a bit of money on these systems," Loesch said. "However, the best and most expensive hearing protections system is rendered ineffective if it does not fit. Units don't have to wait for their annual hearing brief to be fitted for hearing protection. The Army Hearing Program staff is only a phone call away and is willing to schedule a hearing health brief or fit hearing protection for your unit."

Loesch also stated that Soldiers can come to the audiology clinic at RAHC anytime to be fitted for hearing protection. Additionally, the audiology clinic has walk-in hours available throughout the week for Soldiers to receive their annual hearing screening that is required for their periodic health assessment.

"We have all the resources here at Fort Sill and Reynolds Army Health Clinic to ensure that all Fires Soldiers protect their hearing, but the hearing protection does not work if you don't wear it," concluded Loesch. "I am grateful for commanders like Lt. Col. Raines who support the Army Hearing Program and set the example to their Soldiers by requiring and wearing hearing protection."

Raines said Fort Sill and RAHC have made it easy for him to take care of his Soldiers' health and welfare while maintaining unit readiness.