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HAWCish on Health in Okinawa

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan, April 14, 1997 – Defense health officials call the Health and Wellness Center here a model for all of DoD. But Air Force Maj. John Turner and Tech. Sgt. Carl Vetter will settle for a smaller slice of DoD -- Okinawa.

An outgrowth of the modern health care movement toward preventive medicine, the HAWC provides health risk assessments, diet planning and counseling to service members and their families, DoD employees and DoD schools.

"Our clients are not just those on Kadena, but people from every U.S. military installation on the island, even Japanese employees," Vetter said. "We're on a 'search and destroy' mission for PPIP [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Put Prevention Into Practice program embraced by DoD a few years ago]."

Indeed, the center doesn't act independently, but in unison with the naval hospital at nearby Camp Lester and medical clinics at the other installations. "What we prescribe," Vetter said, "is a program of wellness." From walk-in blood pressure screenings to smoking cessation classes, in-house and exported to units around the island, the center focuses on things people can do to take better care of themselves.

"Five thousand years of medicine have confirmed that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Vetter said.

Cliches aside, Turner said he wants the program to produce widespread and lasting results in people's lives. To reach adults reluctant to change old habits, he's tapping their consciences through their children.

"We need to convince service members that preventive maintenance isn't just for weapon systems," he said. "Working with school-age children is a force multiplier. If kids are convinced they can eat better and exercise more, we believe they'll take that home to mom and dad."

Turner's thinking about using the Girl Scouts to boost his program. "What if we can show the girls a healthier recipe for cookies that taste as good as the products they sell?" he asked. "If they take those ideas home with them, maybe the whole family will begin a healthier diet."

More direct approaches to reaching adults include monitoring on-base eateries. "We visit [DoD] clubs and dining facilities on the island once a quarter to see if they're making nutritional information available and offering healthy choices for every meal," Vetter said. "If they're not, we offer dietary consultation to improve their menus.

"So many foods offer a taste that thrills with ingredients that kill," he said, slipping back into catchy phrases to sell his program.

To a great extent, Turner and Vetter are salesmen, and their product is healthy lives. Beaming with the pride of accomplishment, one client couldn't wait to tell her good news. "I'm not smoking," said the wife of a service member, here. "I just completed the smoking cessation class, and I'm not smoking."

Turner and Vetter smiled, too, reveling in a life changed for the better.

Centers such as this one at Kadena are opening throughout the Air Force and at other services' installations. Health promotions offices at DoD hospitals and clinics can provide information and assistance.

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