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Through Airmen's Eyes: Airman, coalition team ensure health, hygiene of contractors

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Russell Martin
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing
Some people have dirty jobs. But one Airman and her coalition team ensure that the workers' living conditions on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, are held to the highest health and environmental standards.

The airfield is home to nearly 30,000 U.S. and coalition forces, government employees and contractors who live and work in multiple camps within the installation.

Every Thursday, Staff Sgt. Jennifer Vaughan, a 451st Air Expeditionary Wing public health technician and member of the airfield Commander's Task Force Inspection Team, inspects of one of the many contractor camps on base.

The task force is a band of subject matter experts from a variety of specialties and fields: fire department, ground and environmental safety, legal, medical, contractor management and the Kandahar Airfield's command sergeant major. These experts represent the Air Force, Army and NATO contingents at the airfield. Once the safety brief is complete the cadre sets out to inspect the designated camp.

Vaughan, deployed from the 375th Aerospace Medical Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., typically performs sanitation inspections in 32 facilities, collects and reports disease and non-battle injury data, individual medical readiness reports, reviews records and medical intelligence briefs, and she is also the immunizations point of contact including the seasonal influenza vaccine.

Following one of her many sanitation inspections, Navy Cmdr. Brian Foor, the commander's medical adviser, asked Vaughan to help support the mission in a new way by joining the Thursday inspection team.

Foor, an orthopedic physician assistant by trade, had good reason to stand up this new team of specialists like Vaughan.

Within a few days of his deployment, Foor was notified about several sick workers. Before medical personnel could begin treating the patients, two busses arrived, loaded with 40 additional sick contractors looking for treatment. Unbeknownst to Foor, an unapproved dining facility within a civilian contractor's camp had served undercooked chicken and vegetables causing food poisoning among many.

There are more than 580 civilian coalition contractor camps on the airfield. Most have kitchen facilities, dining facilities and employee living quarters. Vaughan's knowledge and expertise is now paramount to ensuring their conditions are hygienic and safe and preventing similar problems, Foor said.

The cadre's efforts have already had a lasting effect on most of the inspected camps. One camp in particular was in a complete and total health, food and sanitary disarray, Foor recalled.

"Upon our arrival we could look at the employees and see they were dirty and just unhappy," Foor said. "We thought the tops of their warming table and floor tables were painted black. However, as we approached them we discovered that they were actually covered in flies that took off like a blanket and then circled the room. " Foor said.

Without hesitation, Vaughan and the team laid down the rules, closed the kitchen and dining facility. They then started to educate and challenge the camp leaders to meet standards and initiate change.

'Within three days we returned to re-inspect, and they got their camp up to standards and had done a complete turn-around," Vaughan said. "The folks began to take a lot more pride in it. They even built a brand new dining facility themselves within a few weeks. We returned several weeks later and noticed the employees looked better, were eating better and feeling better. It was amazing to see."

Vaughan said that while some of the inspections can take a toll on her, it's rewarding to help employees correct discrepancies and meet standards.

"The contractors and third-country nationals work really hard all day, every day," Vaughan said. "When we come in they're very nice and if we correct a problem, they typically try to fix it on the spot and with a smile. I think they understand that we're not there to bring them down, but we do want them to be healthy and happy in their environments."

The Thursday inspections are only part of the equation for Vaughan. She also follows up on the problem-resolution process. If the facilities she inspects do not fall in line with public health guidelines, she will shut them down until they can be improved; going back every day until it's done.

"I've found kitchens and rooms that are a public health nightmare," Vaughan said. "I've had to close a place down for three days while they got their facility in order, although most of them can fix the discrepancies within hours. But that is my favorite part of what I do here. There is nothing like coming back to a facility, a few days after you inspect it, and seeing the necessary changes being made and knowing that the 30,000 members of Kandahar Airfield are being taken care of in a clean, hygienic environment."