Physical therapy keeps Airmen 'fit to fight'

Staff Sgt. Justen Tjarks, 30th Medical Operations Squadron flight chief of health promotions, assists Senior Airman Daniel Dykema, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron engineering journeyman, with different forms of stretching, Oct. 6, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Tjarks works hands-on with each patient to ensure a safe and effective recovery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford/Released)

Staff Sgt. Justen Tjarks, 30th Medical Operations Squadron flight chief of health promotions, assists Senior Airman Daniel Dykema, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron engineering journeyman, with different forms of stretching, Oct. 6, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Tjarks works hands-on with each patient to ensure a safe and effective recovery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- From storming the beaches of Normandy, France, in 1944, to guarding the streets of Mosul, Iraq, in 2006, physical fitness has been essential to American and coalition forces.

With the historically high physical demands put on troops, injuries can happen despite safety precautions. With this in mind, many military installations are equipped with a solution to help their members become fit to fight again - physical therapy.

Staff Sgt. Justen Tjarks, 30th Medical Operations Squadron flight chief of health promotions, has dedicated six years to being a physical medicine technician.

"I love the job," said Tjarks. "What I do as a physical therapy technician is provide the patients with an exercise plan that our physical therapist generates."

Tjarks works hands-on with each patient to ensure a safe and effective recovery.

"I teach the patients the exercises and what they need to focus on, and then it's up to them to work on those exercises on a consistent basis to get better," said Tjarks. "We're empowering our patients to learn the techniques to fix themselves, so they don't just fix themselves now, but have the ability to address the issue if it ever comes back."

Since individual bodies heal at different rates, each condition, and patient, have different recovery times.

"My usual patients are people who run too much and improperly," said Tjarks.

Lt. Col. Kalliroi Landry, 14th Air Force plans and programs deputy director, has a long history of back problems and started going to physical therapy a year ago.

"The physical therapist, Major Jones, has really pinpointed the root cause of my problem and has been methodically working through everything I have been experiencing," said Landry. "I started off not being able to do even one push-up. Between Major Jones' expertise, and the bi-weekly treatments and exercise routines, I think the team has really gotten my problem under control."

The physical therapy team is a unique combination of military and civilian therapists, and technicians, all working together to protect and enhance the Air Force's most valuable resource - its Airmen.

"I believe in teaching you how to help yourself," said Tjarks. "I'm going to teach you what I know, so that you can help yourself when these things happen again. So the next time you can deal with your issue right away, and not suffer the kind of injury you would have if you didn't."

For the physical therapy professionals, job satisfaction comes from ensuring Airmen are able to perform their duties - ensuring mission success.

"Pain is an extremely good motivator," said Tjarks. "When people are in pain they don't function as well in their daily life. We are talking about Airmen who are either working on a flight line, or sitting at a computer working on the calculations to successfully launch a rocket wherever it needs to go."

Although the job can be demanding, Tjarks and his crew remain motivated and get great pleasure seeing patients improve.

"The mission requires us to use our bodies," said Tjarks. "We take people who are not functioning the way they should and get them back on track. We return them to the level they need to be at to do their jobs and live their lives. I don't just do something that helps them in their Air Force career. The pain doesn't stop when they go home. By fixing that pain - we're fixing a life."