International students part of USAFSAM’s rich heritage

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- As the oldest continually operating institution of its kind, the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine -- part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing -- has long been a leading institute for education, research and operational consultation in the field of aerospace medicine and human performance. The school’s legacy, though, reaches beyond the United States through its international students.

The first international student attended in 1923, from Brazil. Since then, more than 130 countries have been represented.

“Every USAFSAM course is open to international students, but one of the premier opportunities is the Advanced Aerospace Medicine for International Medical Officers course,” according to Paul McCracken, the school’s International Military Student Officer.

First offered in 1949, AAMIMO is a 23-week course emphasizing military aerospace medicine, enabling students to address clinical aerospace, hyperbaric and global preventative medicine problems, perform the aeromedical and human factors aspects of aircraft mishap investigations and prevention, and assume higher levels of responsibility in their aerospace medicine careers.

“Any students we accept for AAMIMO must have completed a basic flight surgeon course and have a minimum of two years’ experience,” McCracken said. “They have to meet all our security requirements, of course, and they must be recommended by their country to attend. Our applicant pool is often, therefore, the best of the best from their countries, being groomed for leadership. In fact, many of the course graduates go on to become to surgeon general or the equivalent of their military or country.”

The benefits of hosting and training international students are both tremendous and mutual, according to McCracken. Having a network of aerospace medicine leaders worldwide is invaluable.

“Our alum become liaisons for us in their home countries,” he explained. “We can work with them to create or enhance partnerships, to conduct humanitarian missions, and so much more. Often our students come from countries that don’t historically get along, but medicine tends to transcend those differences.”

This year’s AAMIMO course, for example, has seven students, hailing from Egypt, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Jordan. Even when tension might exist, the international training staff -- which includes McCracken, course director Dr. Jeffrey Lawson and noncommissioned officer in charge Staff Sgt. Mark Richardson -- turns it into a benefit.

“Despite our students’ vast medical expertise, they still have misconceptions about other cultures, just as we all do,” he said. “They receive extensive technical training and conduct rigorous research as part of AAMIMO, of course. But aside from learning about our standard of aeromedical care and how the Air Force and other services ‘do business,’ the students get a cultural education. They learn from each other and from all the people they encounter during their time here. And we learn just as much from them.

“The AAMIMO course includes six educational trips, to approximately 21 military installations or other aerospace-related government agencies,” McCracken continued. “Those trips expose the students to the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA, for example, but it also exposes them to different parts of the United States. So while they are learning best practices in their field, they are learning about American culture, as well.”

The students’ cultural education goes beyond informal exposure, however. Indeed, the AAMIMO course includes a State Department field studies program, with the goal to expose all foreign military students to the 11 department objectives -- such as human relations, the judicial process, free trade and others.

One of the six trips the students take is a two-week excursion to Washington, D.C., where they meet with the Air Force Surgeon General and visit offices including the Defense Health Agency and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. But while they are there, they also visit the White House, Congress and a number of museums and other agencies to meet those State Department objectives.

“We’re incredibly proud of AAMIMO, and all of our dealings with international students,” McCracken concluded. “We’re proud of the role we play in helping them evolve from operational flight medicine practitioners to strategically-visioned aerospace medicine leaders. And they are proud to be USAFSAM alum.”