Home>Features>Feature - As international health specialists, Reservists can work on the cutting edge of global health
As an international health specialist, Maj. Marissa Marquez (third from left) has had a positive impact on improving the heath of thousands of people throughout the Asian-Pacific region. Here, she builds partnerships with health professionals at the Asian- Pacific Military Nursing Association Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia.
by Bo Joyner
Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command
5/25/2012 - Citizen Airman/June 2012 -- Capt. Morgan Robert and Master Sgt. Keyser Voigt are looking for a few good Reservists. ... to serve as international health specialists. Robert and Voigt comprise the Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command IHS program liaison team. They serve as links between operational active-duty IHS teams and the international health specialists in AFRC, market the IHS program, recruit and train eligible people, and secure real-world IHS opportunities for Reservists.
"The IHS program is a great opportunity for Reservists in the health professions to really make a difference in communities all around the world," Voigt said. "International health specialists are literally on the cutting-edge of global health."
IHS professionals plan, lead and execute health-related regional security cooperation activities around the world. They work closely with U.S. embassy personnel and help coordinate U.S. military support to interagency disaster response, humanitarian assistance, and health care infrastructure development during wartime and in stability operations.
Robert said there are currently about 40 Reservists who serve as international health specialists. He said he would like to increase that number to about 125.
"Unit commanders understand the importance of the IHS program and generally support participation as long as the member is current on all training requirements," he said. "Participating in IHS engagements provides invaluable experience as well as personal and professional growth that ultimately makes you and your unit a global asset that can be leveraged in times of need."
The IHS program is open to officers and enlisted members in all medical Air Force specialty codes who speak a second language. Interested Reservists must fill out an IHS application and subsequently be awarded a special experience identifier. An SEI recognizes members with operational, cultural, language and international expertise.
To earn their SEI, Reservists must speak a second language, assessed by taking the Defense Language Proficiency Test at a local education center. They must possess a secret security clearance or higher, have eight cumulative weeks of overseas experience (annual tours, deployments, church missions, living abroad, etc.) and must also complete some online courses.
Voigt hopes that more unit Reservists and individual mobilization augmentees will choose to become IHS subject-matter experts and seek an SEI designation.
"Being awarded an SEI does not change your AFSC or make you vulnerable for deployment," he said. "It simply identifies people with special skills and capabilities for future missions on a volunteer basis."
Once a Reservist has been awarded an SEI, the AFRC Liaison Team will coordinate additional training that will allow him or her to participate in real-world IHS health engagements around the world. Training includes basic orientation at the IHS program office located at the Pentagon, joint humanitarian operations training with the U.S. Agency for International Development and security cooperation training with the Defense Institute for Security Assistance Management. Training culminates with an eight-day overseas major command familiarization alongside the sponsoring IHS team.
Maj. Marissa Marquez is a clinical nurse with the 752nd Medical Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., who has been an international health specialist since 2007. She has had a positive impact on improving the health of thousands of people throughout the Asian-Pacific region, specifically in Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
As an infection control subject-matter expert, she has helped coordinate and taken part in a number of Pacific Angel medical missions. Pacific Angel is a recurring
joint/combined humanitarian assistance mission sponsored by U.S. Pacific Command designed to bring humanitarian civic assistance and civil-military operations to areas in need in the Pacific region.
"I was tasked to develop a training program for the locals as well as health care workers regarding infection control practices," Marquez said. "We surveyed different hospitals and helped them identify their needs and recommended appropriate infection prevention and control strategies and established infection control programs. We exchanged knowledge and information, but the best part is we established professional relationships with civilian and military health care providers."
In addition to her work with Pacific Angel, Marquez has taken part in medical conferences around the world, including international gatherings in Warsaw, Poland, and Geneva, Switzerland, among other locations. In May, she gave a presentation on "providing leadership as an infection prevention and control subject-matter expert on an Air Force humanitarian mission" at the Asia Pacific Military Medicine Conference in Bangkok.
Although the primary mission of IHS professionals is security cooperation activities, they may also be tasked to support medical readiness training exercises or other engagements on rare occasions. In August, Marquez will take part in a Panama MEDRETE where her responsibilities will include developing a culturally sensitive briefing that includes "do's and don'ts" while in country, geopolitical information, and health surveillance data that will provide a focus area for the Reserve medics participating in the exercise. In addition, Marquez will meet and interact with U.S. embassy personnel to formulate a plan for future engagements that will meet military objectives as defined by U.S. Southern Command.
"The IHS program has given me the opportunity to see the world," Marquez said. "Being an international health specialist has broadened my knowledge and experience with a myriad of complex cultures and traditions. I would definitely recommend the IHS program to Reserve medical professionals who are looking to make a difference in the health of people all around the world."
SEI applications are located online at https://kx.afms.mil/afihs/ and have detailed instructions included. Once a Reservist has completed an application, he or she should email it and all supporting documents to email@example.com. The SEI board meets quarterly. Reservists who have questions or need assistance should contact the Reserve liaisons at DSN 497-0050/0592 or commercial 478-327-0050/0592. Robert can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voigt's email address is email@example.com.