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Air Force International Health Specialist builds medical capability in Iraq

  • Published
  • By Zach Huebschman
  • U.S. Air Force International Health Specialists
In June, a public health professional serving as an International Health Specialist deployed to Iraq as part of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve.

Lt. Col. Jessica Cowden, Infectious Disease Programs chief with the Defense Institute for Medical Operations at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, deployed and worked to improve medical security cooperation with Iraq and its allies. The IHS deployment was a first in the country for the Air Force Medical Service, providing a proof of concept for future health specialist support in similar operations around the globe.

"The International Health Specialist program provides a capability to support combatant commanders’ operational requirements - maintain regional stability, increase partner nation and coalition force resiliency, and enhance force readiness--to meet the challenges of tomorrow," said Col. Joseph Anderson, Chief, Medical Readiness Division. "Global Health Engagement activities such as this IHS deployment in Iraq contribute to improving partnerships and bolstering readiness."

Cowden’s work facilitated the exchange of medical knowledge and practices between Kurdish and Iraqi security forces. Leadership from the Ministry of Peshmerga met with Iraq’s Ministry of Defense surgeon general to discuss policies, procedures and medical training.

Cowden said building relationships that will last beyond the deployment was the most significant part of her work there.

“This type of continual engagement produces more impactful and sustainable results,” Cowden said. “Bringing the right people together is one of the most valuable roles we play as International Health Specialists.”

Cowden also helped improve Iraqi inter-ministerial connections amongst medics. For the first time, multiple ministries met to discuss policies and plan how to more easily share resources and coordinate efforts.

“We worked with Iraqi medical leadership to assist them in developing training curriculum based on accessible tools and resources within the construct of their systems and regulations,” said Cowden. “We helped develop something that was sustainable, enabling trainees to truly implement their skills.”

According to Col. Colin Smyth, Director of Expeditionary Medical Policy and Operations for the U.S. Air Force, improved inter-ministerial cooperation increases Iraq’s military medical capability and capacity, which also supports better interoperability between U.S. and coalition forces.

"The lessons we learned from this deployment will be incredibly useful as we continue to build and improve our model to strengthen partnerships and increase medical readiness,” said Smyth.