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Security Forces gets their own “flight surgeon”

For the past eight months, Maj. (Dr.) Gabriel Briscoe, 60th Medical Group family medicine physician, has learned the challenges and numerous responsibilities of security forces specialists at Travis Air Force Base, California.        

With the help of a nurse and two medical technicians, Briscoe provides one-stop medical care to more than 200 members of the 60th Security Forces Squadron and their family members ages 16 and up.    

“The idea is that they all see the same physician who is familiar with the stresses and the kind of medical problems they face, that I have a direct line of communication with the commander and the first sergeant and vice versa,” said Briscoe. 

Before he went to medical school, Briscoe was a pilot. 

“We have a similar type program as (aircrew members) have unique needs,” he said.  “This program gives security forces members access to care that could impact their mission.” 

Because of their mission, security forces members face more mental and physical stressors than most other career fields, said Briscoe. 

“Most people only see them when they come in the gate. That’s about the most interaction they have with them,” said Briscoe. 

“They don’t realize the frequent deployments, that they are on the front lines of combat handling the mission of the Air Force.  I didn’t,” he said.

One thing Briscoe is learning is that security forces members wear many hats – maintaining law and order on the installation, providing combat arms training, assessing risks and protecting wing assets whenever aircrew travel, working with U.S. Marshalls on inmate transfers and serving on presidential details – all of which can lead to emotional as well as physical demands. 

“These men and women suffer more physical problems, especially musculoskeletal problems,” said Briscoe.  “A good many are K-9 handlers.  They get a lot of injuries when the dogs knock them down – like concussions or shoulder injuries.”

Last year, Staff Sgt. Steve Thao, 60th SFS military working dog handler, suffered a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee when “Huba,” a 75-pound German shepherd, attacked him in his role as “the bad guy.”

“We’re trained to take a hit, but sometimes the dogs don’t stop when the handler calls the dog back,” said Thao.  “You can’t simulate the job so we’re running full speed and so is the dog.”  

Huba caught Thao by the left shoulder and wouldn’t let go. 

“I turned to shake him off, but the momentum of his body and mine threw me off balance,” said Thao.   

Fearing he would land on Huba’s head, Thao pushed the animal out of the way as he fell to his knees.  Physical therapy and six months in a knee brace got him back in shape, he said.

The Ravens – an elite group of Airmen who receive specialized training to operate in high-security risk areas – have an especially demanding job, said Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Ilsley, 60th SFS manager.  Only 10 percent of security forces Airmen actually qualify for the team, he said. 

By participating in unit activities and wearing their protective gear, Briscoe is better able to suggest ways to minimize injuries. 

“Our (primary care manager) is an honorary defender so he knows what it takes physically and mentally to be a defender,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Quinn, 60th SFS commander.  “He has proactively analyzed and mitigated common injures associated with Raven hand-to-hand combat and K-9 attacks.”

With a dedicated provider, the squadron commander has immediate access to someone who can get his personnel cleared medically for a short-notice deployment.

“They get short-order tasking frequently and we have to make sure they are physically and mentally capable of deploying – for example, they don’t have an upcoming surgery or medical problem that is still being worked,” said Briscoe. 

Master Sgt. Jesse Ferrari, 60th SFS first sergeant, also has needed immediate access to their provider.   

“On many occasions I've reached out directly to Major Briscoe for insight into an issue that someone is having, whether it's to have verbiage changed on a physical profile or to get a better explanation of a prescription drug so I know if I need to add that person to the ‘do not arm roster,’” said Ferrari.

Briscoe also addresses members’ mental health needs. 

“I work with behavioral health.  If someone needs counseling for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), adjustment disorder, a stressful situation or is suicidal, we can get them help,” said Briscoe.  “If they need medications for any of these situations, I would write the prescription.”

Air Force suicide rates had been highest among security forces Airmen, said Ilsley.

“We’ve seen a reduction since 2012,” he said.  “Our defenders now understand that it’s the responsible thing to seek help.  We even have mental health technicians regularly in our building.” 

Since being a cop is a lifestyle, family members also see Briscoe.    

“Short-order tasking catches them off guard,” said Briscoe.  “Spouses find themselves as a single parent quite quickly because their spouse got 24 hours’ notice to leave.  It can cause a lot of stress for a family,” he said.

Working with the security forces squadron has been an enjoyable experience, said Briscoe.

“They are a unique group of men and women who self-select to become defenders.  They are a very diverse group with a unique sense of mission.  They are here because they want to be and they take pride in their work,” he said. 

“I’m still learning what their lives are like,” said Briscoe.