by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay
432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
6/30/2015 - CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada -- As
the persistent demand for remotely piloted aircraft support increases,
the burden on the Airmen who fly, maintain, and support these operations
also increases, often times leaving some questioning their ability to
continue in this rewarding but highly stressful job.
Providing disciplined war-fighters, who dominate the intelligence,
surveillance, reconnaissance and kinetic operations globally, 24/7, for
our nation and its coalition partners, is a daunting and sometimes
stressful task. Fortunately, those closest to the fight recognize the
need to take care of their most valuable asset: the Airmen.
"Every single day this base is at war," said U.S. Air Force Col. James
Cluff, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "What we do
here isn't autonomous. It starts with the people, and the people are the
heart of it. The manpower it takes to operate this enterprise is at the
heart of this system and we must do what we can to protect them."
Normally reserved for special operations commands, human performance
teams focus on helping Airmen win today's fight while they prepare for
tomorrow through physical, social, spiritual, intellectual and emotional
Considering the demands facing the RPA enterprise, Team Creech has
formed their own human performance team to meet the needs of those
supporting RPA operations at this one-of-a-kind deployed-in-place
"Our vision with this program is to shape the future of airpower," said
Chaplin (Maj.) Mark Williams, a member of the human performance team.
"Through motivated, innovative, and trained warriors, we can
deliberately develop and take care of our Airmen."
The Creech HPT consists of an operational physiologist, an operational
psychologist, operational medicine, and the Chaplin corps who together
treat the five areas of wellness for all Creech Airmen.
Due to the sensitive nature of the Team Creech mission, the HPT are
cleared to the top secret and sensitive information levels to allow them
access to Airmen's work centers to allow greater day-to-day
availability to help those in need.
"Having access to the Airmen in their units allows us to break down the
stigmas associated with getting help," said Williams. "Whereas before we
were seen as outsiders, we are now viewed as part of the team since we
can observe what they experience firsthand."
In a 2012 RPA survey, Air Combat Command Airmen rated their top five
contributors affecting stress and morale as unit manning, shift
schedules, extra duties and administrative tasks, working long hours and
having sleep issues.
Armed with this information, the Creech HTP tailored training to give
Airmen the tools needed to remain resilient against those factors.
The wing operational physiologist, Maj. Maria Gomez-Mejia, works to fill
the non-traditional aspects unique to Creech through educational
training aimed at fatigue mitigation, performance enhancement, risk
management analysis and observations, and RPA specific human factor
"Most of our Airmen here at Creech spend long periods of time sitting
between flying and the drive to and from work in addition to the shift
work, so it's vital that we target the physical aspects of this job,"
said Gomez-Mejia. "The partnership of the program is essential."
Annually the HPT collects 9,000 standardized aviation risk management
reports from crewmembers who receive personal stressor scores from the
operational physiologist, psychologist, or the Chaplin as needed.
In addition, the psychological aspects are also addressed to optimize
performance, improve organizational climate, unit moral, team dynamics,
operational readiness and combat effectiveness.
"Among ACC RPA Airmen we are focused on energy management, goal setting,
improving home relationships, mental resilience and work
relationships," said Maj. Eddie, wing operational psychologist.
If a problem persists and cannot be treated through non-medical avenues Airmen can partner with flight medicine.
"We like to remind the Airmen that seeking help is a sign of strength
and it is not detrimental to their career," said Lt. Col. James
Senechal, 99th Aerospace Medicine Squadron flight doctor. "We are
committed to solving the problem and getting Airmen back in the seat."
The HPT is focused on getting Airmen to the right expertise for their
issues, which occasionally requires multiple aspects of the team at once
to treat the five areas of wellness.
"A hundred feet from our door, our Airmen are at war," said Williams.
"We must do everything we can to keep our Airmen and their families
Treating the source of the problem is a huge part of the HPT's mission
and families are strongly encouraged to seek help along with their
Airman from this unique group.
"Sometimes its nutritional help an Airman is seeking and throughout the
conversation we discover they have an issue sleeping which makes them
irritable and thus affects the family dynamic," said Gomez-Meija. "So,
we educate both the Airman and the spouse on ways to cope with the
changes in mission and schedules."
For Airmen who have been helped by the program, its impact is
immeasurable and speaks volumes for the amount of caring the wing
leadership has for its Airmen's well-being.
"I think that in this aspect, the Air Force is doing something right,"
said Col. Brent Caldwell, 726th Operations Group commander, a
total-force unit comprised of members from both the Nevada Air National
Guard and the Air Force Reserve. "We didn't wait for this to become an
acute issue before we started treating it; we're attacking it head on."