MARCH 4, 2021 – The U.S. Space Force was established in December 2019 as a lean, mission-focused branch of military service and is supported by a medical team charged with maintaining readiness for both the Guardians who operate and protect U.S. space capabilities and the Airmen assigned to Space Force units.
“Contingencies take place on multiple fronts, and we have to be ready to protect national interests in every domain – land, air, sea, cyberspace, and space,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Alfred K. Flowers, Jr., Command Surgeon, Space Operations Command. “As medics, we play a role in this critical and growing mission.”
Support functions of the Space Force, including medical care, are provided by the Air Force. Medical care for Guardians is built upon the established structure that provided care to the former Air Force Space Command, and falls under the responsibility of the Air Force and Space Force Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg. In this capacity for the Space Force, Hogg advises the Secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force Chief of Staff, the Chief of Space Operations, and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs on the unique medical aspects of conducting space operations and the health of Guardians and the Airmen assigned to Space Force units.
“I advocate for the health and well-being of both Airmen and Guardians,” said Hogg. “Working with the Space Operations Command command surgeon, we ensure integration of initiatives and priorities between the two branches.”
Medical care for Guardians is the responsibility of Air Force medics assigned to the Space Force.
“We will continue to have the same manning for our military treatment facilities we had before the U.S. Space Force was stood up. New Space Force members will have the same primary care managers they had before,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Michelle Milner, Chief, Aerospace Medicine Division, U.S. Space Force.
Flowers and his 17-member team keep Guardians mission ready.
“Guardians execute no-fail missions, 24-7, in a limited-physical-activity environment that requires intense concentration for long periods of time,” said Flowers. “This requires medical providers to be familiar with this challenging environment and its unique stressors.”
U.S. Space Force’s unique mission is what makes the care Guardians need distinct from Airmen.
“It is important to note U.S. Space Force medicine is different from aerospace medicine,” said Hogg. “Aerospace medicine is centered on the medical needs for aircrew members. Space Medicine will be centered around unmanned and manned medical needs for guardians, which is very different from Aerospace medicine. Our Guardians work long days operating unmanned satellites, which presents unique occupational health challenges.”
While Space Force medical support will retain the same mission as the former Air Force Space Command, Hogg and Flowers have their eyes on the future as the Space Force mission evolves and grows.
“I like to use the analogy that we are writing the history and binding the books at the same time,” said Flowers. “Right now our mission is clear, but we also have to look at what this mission will look like in 2030 and 2040. What does a space cadre of uniquely trained medics look like in the future? How do we tap into the expertise of those who are specially trained in space medicine for the future?”
The historic opportunity of supporting a new military branch is not lost on Air Force Medical Service leadership.
“Not many medics have this opportunity to help set up the left and right handrails for a new service,” said Milner. “I walk through the operation floors and look at these Guardians who are dedicated to very critical missions we all rely on every day. I am honored to be part of a team that is able to take care of the U.S. Space Force and its Guardians.”
“Guardians are part of a critical mission that allows our entire military to do their jobs,” said Hogg. “It is an honor and my responsibility to ensure all our beneficiaries, to include our Guardians, continue to get exceptional medical care.”
Story by Shireen Bedi
Air Force Medical Service