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Former international medical student returns to JBSA-Fort Sam Houston as general officer

By Tish Williamson | Health Readiness Center of Excellence Public Affairs | June 4, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

A South Korean delegation, led by a former international student trained at the Health Readiness Center of Excellence, or HRCoE, visited Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston recently.

It has been more than two decades since Brig. Gen. Myoung-ok Kwon of the Republic of Korea Army was an international military student at the HRCoE in what is now known as the Captains Career Course, but she still has fond memories of the experience.

Kwon, who attended training at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston from July-December 1997, is currently the for the Korea Armed Forces Nursing Academy superintendent.

“When I knew I was going to travel abroad for business, I was looking forward to visiting (JBSA-Fort Sam Houston) because I have good memories of my time here,” she said through an interpreter.  

The HRCoE currently trains more than 220 international students from 54 different allied and partner nations mainly through the International Military Education and Training, or IMET, program.

The IMET program provides U.S. government funds to members of foreign militaries to take classes at U.S. military facilities. The program is designed to assist foreign militaries receive the training, regardless of the country’s financial ability.  The ROK training, however, is funded entirely by the Republic of Korea through the Foreign Military Sales program with the Department of Defense. 

These programs, and associated training, bolster foreign relationships with the United States as their soldiers learn about U.S. military’s standards and policies related to materiel, leadership, doctrine, training, education, personnel, facilities and organizational structure to foster democratic values in their members. These partnerships help better develop current and future capabilities and improve standardization and interoperability between the U.S. and its allies and partners. 

Most of the courses available to IMS at the HRCoE are categorized as Professional Military Education with a focus on leader development like the Basic Officer Leadership and Captains Career Courses; public health courses like Preventative Medicine and Veterinary Food Inspection Specialist Courses; or combat medicine training like the Combat Medic, Trauma Nursing Core and Combat Casualty Care Courses. 

Oscar Ramos, director, International Programs Division, who is responsible for the International Military Student Office, noted that 84 of the more than 380 courses taught at the HRCoE are also available through international partnerships. 

“When Brig. Gen. Kwon was a student in what is now the Captains Career Course, we only had about 48 courses available to the international military community under the Security Assistance Training Program,” Ramos said. “Now we have more than 80 resident courses available and will continue to expand opportunities, based on emerging interests by participating countries.”

ROK Army Maj. Jisun Lee recently attended the Principles of Military Preventative Medicine course at the HRCoE and graduated May 17. Lee an OB-GYN doctor and director of the Health Promotion Center at the Armed Forces Daejeon Hospital located in Daejeon, Korea, and is responsible to provide basic preventative medicine care for her patients.

“The course was really helpful. I learned a lot,” Lee said. “There was a lot of curriculum that I had not studied before like entomology, occupational health, environmental health, radiation and epidemiology. I think it was advantageous for me to attend because in Korea we don’t have a structured preventative medicine course.”

Kwon also believes she had an advantage after completing her IMS training as a captain with the HRCoE.  Upon returning to Korea more than 22 years ago, she put her training to use when she was assigned to the Korean Armed Forces Medical School as an instructor of nursing by designing a field training exercise scenario for her students.

“One of the subjects we learned while I was here was field training and we even conducted a field training exercise as part of the course,” Kwon said.

She described how the field training exercise, or FTX, consisted of a mass casualty scenario with treatment from the point of injury through the medical evacuation. She recalls developing superior teamwork with her classmates during the course, noting that success depended on working as a team on many classroom projects, during the FTX and during the class obstacle course exercise.

The general was surprised to learn that the HRCoE had stopped training students in a field environment nearly two decades ago but was happy to know that the FTX was reinstated this year in an effort to ensure soldier lethality on the battlefield by increasing rigor in the classroom.

“It (the FTX) was very beneficial,” Kwon said. “Based on the knowledge and skills that I learned from here, along with my colleagues, I created a field training exercise course for the medical school.”

She said her efforts to add field training to her curriculum were applauded and she was favorably recognized by the medical school at the time for being innovative and creating the new FTX program in Korea through the knowledge gained during her training at the HRCoE.

During the visit, the delegation received overview briefs on the HRCoE, international programs and preventative health.  The group also received a demonstration at the Tactical Combat Medical Care Course and a tour of the emergency department and burn center at Brooke Army Medical Center and visited the Center for the Intrepid.

This visit by Kwon and the entire Korean delegation demonstrates how the IMS program creates long-lasting personal relationships and often includes men and women who later ascend to high ranks and become influential policymakers in their home countries. 

The program plays an important role in the United States’ military-to-military relations with many of our strategic partners and allied nations to help understand the operational environment and critical capabilities each brings to the fight.

“What has impressed me during this visit is that there were just a few programs at the time that I studied here but now you have a lot of available programs,” Kwon said.

She believes that this is a very exciting time for the IMS partnership.

“I plan to go back to Korea and evaluate and discuss with colleagues what kind of other programs and additional courses our nursing officers may benefit from.”