Air Force International Health Specialists bring experience to pandemic response
By Zach Huebschman and Kelley Schlitt, U.S. Air Force International Health Specialists
/ Published June 05, 2020
FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- International Health Specialists' experience in global health engagements proved important to support the Department of Defense’s relief efforts to state health care systems fighting COVID-19.
The Ninth Air Force-led Task Force-Southeast provided defense support of civil authorities within Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, regions III and IV. The task force’s largest mission was delivering support to a COVID-19 alternate care site set up at Temple University in Philadelphia that served as an overflow medical facility.
Several International Health Specialists brought experience in global health engagements to support the task force’s establishment and mission.
Col. Andrew Allen, International Health Specialist and U.S Air Force liaison to the National Guard Bureau, Global Health Division, was appointed as the deputy surgeon for Task Force-Southeast. Allen’s International Health Specialist experience prepared him for this role.
As the U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa International Health Specialist team lead, Allen advised major command leadership. He applied public health principles to evaluate health care infrastructure and medical capabilities of partner nations to provide operational and strategic guidance for medical security cooperation. This skillset was critical for his role on the task force.
“Because of my experience working with non-medical senior leadership as an International Health Specialist, I felt confident in performing a similar role as a member of the surgeon’s team on the task force,” Allen said.
Another aspect of Allen’s prior experience that he found beneficial to perform his new function was pushing his boundaries as a medical professional and willingness to operate in unfamiliar roles and environments.
“A key element of International Health Specialist experience is expanding beyond a traditional role in a clinic or deploying to support an expeditionary medical group,” said Allen. “Stepping out of your comfort zone and being part of the larger DOD mission is crucial to grow as a military medic, and something that can be difficult to accomplish outside of the program. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable makes it easier to quickly adapt when you are called to take on new roles unexpectedly.”
Maj. Joy Tesei, a member of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command International Health Specialist team, was also assigned to support Task Force-Southeast. She served as the subject matter expert for all medical and public health matters for the task force. Her work included providing recommendations to the commander, developing medical concepts of operations, and serving as the liaison to civilian government and non-government organizations at the national and state levels.
“In working with partner nations to mutually increase capabilities, readiness and medical interoperability as an International Health Specialist, I operate in a joint and interagency environment that includes coordinating with major command staff, civilian government agencies and National Guard planners,” Tesei said. “This provides a whole-of-force perspective that helped me understand the full breadth and depth of what we do as medics – a capability that was at the forefront of the COVID-19 response activities.”
Tesei said that while her prior experience informed her work on the task force, the insights she gained while assigned to the taskforce will be just as helpful during future global health engagements.
“Task Force-Southeast was part of an unprecedented government-wide crisis response.” she said. “Our partner nations are interested in how we have executed this and how we can exchange lessons learned and help each other improve pandemic detection and response.”