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Fort Benning is known as the Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence and the Home of the Infantry and Armor schools. Being such, it provides a greater risk for its Soldiers to suffer hearing impairments.
The post's hearing program, formerly the Hearing Conservation Program, is here to help minimize that risk.
The hearing center, located up the hill, between Martin Army Community Hospital's old and new facilities, is comprised of different components: hearing conservation, hearing readiness, clinical services and operational services, according to Maj. Kara Cave, chief, Fort Benning Hearing Program.
"Hearing conservation is now a program for hearing loss prevention for our Department of Defense noise exposed civilians, who are involved in industrial type operations. For example, those who work at Harmony Church and the student Army Depot, it includes that kind of routine, predictable type of noise that our employees are exposed to," Cave said. "There's also hearing readiness, which MEDPROS does a nice job of making sure that we have a force that's fit for deployment.
Cave said she performs clinical services, which is designed to help Soldiers overcome their impairments once they are deemed unfit for deployment.
"If someone isn't fit for the fight, we make sure that they are ready so that they are not any harm to themselves or others with their condition," she said. "Then, there's operational services, which is essentially what we can give a Soldier to ensure that they can practice and train as they fight. It's not just preventing hearing loss, but asking what can we do to make them function better, such as using a type of communication device that integrates and allows them to be able to hear speech better and protect that Soldier's hearing."
One example that Cave mentioned, was the Peltor Communication headsets, which are used by Soldiers and special operations forces, during tactical operations. She said for drill sergeants who often must attend the ranges with their trainees, the Peltor is a great asset.
"For drill sergeants who are out on the range all of the time, they're going in and out of noise. The Peltor Communication device has amplifiers on it, so that they can hear environmental sounds but if they're exposed to hazardous noise, the amplifier will shut off automatically and the passive hearing protector takes over," she said.
Cave said there is also a different type of headphone that is used by Soldiers who work in the maintenance bays. She pointed out that those hearing protection systems have (frequency modulation) channels built into the ear cups so that they can communicate with the students via radio that's also built into their headsets.
She pointed out that the program services personnel from Anniston, Alabama, to Fort Benning, and also includes personnel assigned to units in Dahlonega, Georgia, and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
"We're responsible for surveillance for all of the DOD, noise-exposed civilians and the Soldiers. Usually, it's around 2,000 people per month," Cave said. The hearing center consists of three technicians and one front desk clerk, who is also trained as a hearing technician. Cave added that there are four additional technicians on Sand Hill and others in outlying clinics.
The hearing center features several booths that allow its patrons to test their hearing, while becoming educated on what to look for to determine a possible hearing loss. She explained that checking the data that comes from those booths is one of their biggest tasks.
"Surveillance testing is a big deal, but because this is a (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command) assignment, you have a lot of Soldiers in the ranks of staff sergeant and above, who have had multiple deployments and very fast-paced careers. They come to this TRADOC assignment and it's supposed to be 'take a knee,' but it really ends up not being that. It just ends up being the time where they have more predictable schedules that allow them to take care of their medical issues," Cave explained.
"We've seen a lot of accumulation of the effects of deployments and exposure to noise hazards."
She said the hearing center's staff spends a lot of time focusing on treatment and prevention.
Cave said most Soldiers and civilians who required treatment from the hearing program were identified during the annual hearing tests.
"Based on that test, there are certain referral criteria that are used to generate a referral to see an audiologist. She added that patients are allowed to self-refer, but the hearing program will still ensure that their surveillance aspect is documented before being seen."
"Everybody is required to have health education every year," Cave said. "Generally, it's people piling into the auditorium and someone, who is appointed on orders, gives them a briefing. Here, we were enrolled in a study, which was part of the Naval Research Lab's study on military hearing preservation kit."
"They take modules of testimonials from Soldiers, educational videos, instructional videos and an interactive hearing loss simulator and you can build a presentation that is appropriate for your audience," she said, pointing out that there are two modules here, one at the hearing center and the other for the trainees at Sand Hill.
"Units are welcome to call us and we'll go out to the individual units and we bring ear plugs with us and all of the unit members will get a free fitting," Cave said. "Generally, what I found is that the battalions out here have a system in place for ensuring that their readiness is up-to-date, either they make sure everyone goes in their birth month, cycle break or, they'll have a unit-level Soldier readiness processing."
She pointed out that Soldiers who arrive at their units just after their birth months can schedule to come into the hearing center at any time, except Wednesday afternoon, as the SRP site is closed.