AFMC Command News

Air Force medical leaders discuss future operational challenges, solutions at annual workshop

  • Published
  • By Shireen Bedi
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

Last week, Lt. Gen. Robert I. Miller, Air Force Surgeon General, and Chief Master Sgt. Dawn Kolczynski, Chief of the Medical Enlisted Force, Office of the Air Force Surgeon General hosted the annual, week-long Air Force Medical Service Senior Leadership Workshop in Leesburg, Virginia. This year’s theme was “honoring the past…continuing the legacy”. More than 470 past and present medical leaders came together to discuss transform in the face of aggressive competition and the future of the AFMS.

“We truly stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Miller. “We could not have accomplished everything that we have done without those who have come before us. But you all are making history every single day in what you do. For that, we wanted to make sure that we are not only honoring the past, but we are continuing the legacy.”

Miller focused on three areas of change identified by Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.: force generation, agile combat employment, and multi-capable Airmen. These key concepts were seen throughout the week’s presentations.

Honoring the past…

Miller welcomed the AFMS historian and past leaders to share their experiences transforming the AFMS to meet the operational requirements of their time. Discussions involved how the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11 ushered in a new operational tempo for the medical community and how the transition of military treatment facilities to the Defense Health Agency created a shift to focus more on readiness.

Former Air Force Surgeons General included retired Lt. Gen. James G. Roundebush and retired Lt. Gen. Mark Ediger. Retired CMEFs included retired Chief Master Sgt. Mark Withers and retired Chief Master Sgt. Steve Cum.

While the history of the AFMS often rhymes, it does not repeat,” said Dr. Joseph Frechette, AFMS historian. “It is a dynamic chronicle of evolution and adaptation to meet the mission in the face of shifting contexts at home and abroad. I would suggest that is the past that we should honor and the legacy we should continue.”

Setting the scene of future challenges

Several presenters outlined emerging threats and challenges that continue to shape the AFMS including considerations for the next fight, working in a communication-degraded environment, and limited availability of ports and airfields that could impact medical evacuations and supplies.

“If we don’t understand the environment in which we are working, if we don’t change our system to be prepared for the next conflict, the people who pay the price for that will be those young men and women in uniform who will be on the front line,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, Joint Staff Surgeon.

…Continuing the legacy

The complexities of the next conflict require transformation of medical capabilities that ensure Airmen and Guardians can deploy, return to the fight if injured, and return home safely when their mission is complete. Through innovating, training, and protecting the human weapons system AFMS will ensure continued operational success.

By creating teams that work independently and build upon each other to form more robust capabilities presenters showed how medical forces can meet combatant commanders needs quickly.

“If the iron moves, we move,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas Harrell, Air Force Medical Readiness Agency commander. “The medics that support that force element are going to pick up and move and be there waiting for them. That requires an entirely different force structure…our teams will be smaller. They will be more portable. They will need to take up less space.” From training in challenging environments with partner and ally nations to developing new training programs to prepare for future demands, leaders stressed the need to aggressively ramp up the readiness of Air Force medics for new challenges.

Kolczynski penned Medic-X as the future for AFMS, setting a baseline of critical skills for all medical personnel including nonclinical. Medic-X has also been successfully piloted at 15 facilities and during a deployment at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both were successful at instilling baseline skillsets and provided valuable knowledge to move the program forward.

“The first response to the charge to create multi-capable Airman for the medical community is Medic-X,” said Chief Master Sgt. Charles Wortman, Chief of Medical Enlisted Forces for the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency. “Medic-X has 54 skills that can apply to all of us and can increase our capability…It’s about becoming more capable and more ready with the resources we have.”

Presentations also addressed how medics will ensure the readiness of the Air Force and Space Force, including increased access to care, integrated teams that address unit-level concerns, and looking closer at the unique care needed to support Guardians.

Miller and Kolczynski concluded the workshop, asking attendees to reflect on the week’s presentations and how they can be part of the key solutions to sustain the AFMS’s success.

“Even though there may be some tension between what belongs with the AFMS and what belongs with the Defense Health Agency, at the end of the day you have our promise that we are not going to let you fail,” said Miller. “I started my initial brief sharing the Rolling Stones quote where you don’t always get what want, but thinking about this week, I got exactly what I wanted and it is that I got to hear from you all, so thank you.”