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Keeping Pacific warriors fit for the fight

Tech. Sgt. James Thompson, a Det. 3, Air Force Institute for Operational Health lab technician, prepares a solution to determine if heavy metal toxins may be released from waste material before it is sent to a landfill.
U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Hallford

Tech. Sgt. James Thompson, a Det. 3, Air Force Institute for Operational Health lab technician, prepares a solution to determine if heavy metal toxins may be released from waste material before it is sent to a landfill. U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Hallford

Staff Sgt. Karl Lacsina, Det. 3 Air Force Institute for Operational Health entomologist technician, hangs a trap to collect mosquitoes to be analyzed for potential diseases. U.S. Air Force photo/courtesy of Det. 3 AFOIH

Staff Sgt. Karl Lacsina, Det. 3 Air Force Institute for Operational Health entomologist technician, hangs a trap to collect mosquitoes to be analyzed for potential diseases. U.S. Air Force photo/courtesy of Det. 3 AFOIH

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Performing environmental, safety and occupational health risk assessments and consultations, one Kadena unit's job is to keep Air Force warriors mission-ready by keeping them healthy. 

Detachment 3 Air Force Institute for Operational Health, the only unit of its type in the Pacific Command area, provides a full-service ESOH analytical laboratory with an advisory and technical service center supporting U.S. forces throughout the Pacific theater. 

"Along with an analytical laboratory, we have a group of specialists who travel throughout Pacific Command performing consultations on environmental and occupational health issues, food and water vulnerability assessments, rodent and insect problems, communicable diseases, laboratory hood certification, radiation protection and radon assessments," said Lt. Col. Steven Niehoff, Det 3 AFIOH commander and public health officer.
The unit dispatches subject-matter experts to directly support Pacific bases on a wide variety of consultative projects. 

"Each base has its own bioenvironmental engineering and public health flights," said Senior Master Sgt. Marty Baugher, Det 3 AFIOH superintendent. "A lot of our projects exceed a base's capability because the base doesn't have the expertise, the equipment, the time or the money to do the project, but we do. Our consultative projects are coordinated through Pacific Air Forces Headquarters and the flights, and are often done with their help." 

Through direct on-site ESOH consultation, Det 3 enhances force health protection of Department of Defense members. 

"We look at food and water delivery systems to determine if they are secure and identify vulnerabilities," said Sergeant Baugher. "From where the food or water originated and how it is stored, to how and where it is delivered to the customer - we assess the risk of terrorist threats." 

Det 3 also performs mosquito surveillance to determine the particular species in an area and can check them for diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis to ensure proper preventive and monitoring measures are in place to avoid a disease outbreak. 

"There is the potential in much of PACAF for mosquitoes to spread a large number of diseases," said Colonel Niehoff. "Not all mosquitoes can spread every disease. Trapping is done to monitor the type and number of mosquitoes, allowing bases to know when and where spraying should be conducted." 

The analytical laboratory conducts tests on various environmental samples submitted from the consultant projects, from individual bases or other Department of Defense organizations. The samples ensure a base or submitting agency remains compliant with host nation environmental guidelines and helps determine the potential health risks to personnel. 

The lab has in-house capabilities for testing drinking water, wastewater, hazardous waste, air filters and bulk samples for potentially dangerous compounds. A large portion of the lab's work comes from testing material containing polychlorinated biphenyls, heavy metals and asbestos -- all disease- or cancer-causing materials. 

"The (recently released) 18th Medical Group's Water Quality Consumer Confidence report contains much data supplied by Det 3," said Colonel Niehoff. 

According to Lt. Col. Norman West, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron deputy commander, the working relationship between Det 3 and 18th MDG is "particularly robust." 

"During a recent possible radiofrequency overexposure, Det 3 dropped everything to assist the bioenvironmental flight in determining the exposure risk," said Colonel West.
Det 3 has the only overseas Air Force laboratory accredited by the American Industrial Hygiene Association. 

"Accreditation by AIHA ensures our lab workers are knowledgeable and accurate, understanding and performing analyses following accepted procedures," the colonel said. "AIHA provides a means to educate our workers and to liaise with other hygiene and occupational health professionals." 

Although Det 3 is an Air Force Material Command asset, assigned AFIOH at Brooks City-Base, Texas, they have provided direct support to the Pacific theater from Kadena since 1990.