NEWS | May 2, 2012

Bioenvironmental Engineering technicians detect to protect

By Airman 1st Class George Goslin

There is a team at Joint Base Charleston with special skills that protect us from some of the more hazardous elements we encounter in a military environment.

The 628th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight personnel analyze our drinking water, test for high radiation levels, chemicals and biological contaminants and are trained to rush into the kind of hazardous environments that most of us would be running away from such as chemical spills or biological contaminant incidents.

The mission of the Air Force Bioenvironmental Engineering technicians is to conduct health risk assessments for base personnel and to communicate those risks to commanders. They keep Airmen healthy by minimizing illness and injury, providing respirator fit tests and conducting industrial hygiene, heat stress prevention and noise surveys. They also serve as part of a joint strike team with the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron emergency management team as initial responders in the event of an incident involving biological, chemical, or radiological situations.

"The Bioenvironmental Engineers' vision is to optimize combat capabilities," said Master Sgt. Christopher Robinson, 628th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "We do this by preventing casualties and enhancing performance in the deployed and garrison environment using full spectrum threat health risk reduction."

Bioenvironmental Engineering technicians concentrate on four main functional areas: Occupational Health Surveillance which consists of routine industrial workplace health risk assessments, noise surveys, ventilation system surveys, heat stress monitoring and respirator fit testing. Community Health Surveillance samples the base drinking water, ensuring it is safe for consumption; the Readiness and Training program conducts gas mask fit testing, emergency response and bioenvironmental engineer skills training; and Radiation Surveillance encompasses installation radioactive material accountability, radiation shipment monitoring, workplace radiation storage and X-ray surveys.

All of these responsibilities, along with a high deployment tempo, add stress to the job. When these Airmen deploy, they usually have to cover more duties with less manpower.

"We usually deploy in one or two person teams," said Senior Airman Leah Erlandson, 628th AMS Bioenvironmental Engineering technician. "We have to tackle the load that a whole shop would normally balance in a non-deployed environment."

The duties of their job when deployed could vary depending on a specific deployment location or certain mission requirements, but usually they have the same tasks at deployed locations that they do at home station. They aim to maintain consistent capabilities for both garrison and deployed environments.

The dangers associated with this career field can be high. Besides having to assess potentially dangerous situations for work environments on-base, the Bioenvironmental Engineer technicians are initial responders on the emergency management team. They suit up and go into hotzones that put the rest of the base on alert.

"I think it's very rewarding because my career is not the same thing every day," said Erlandson. "There are so many aspects to the job. Personally, I love being in Bioenvironmental Engineering."