Cover: Building Partner Health Capacity with U.S. Military Forces

Building Partner Health Capacity with U.S. Military Forces

Enhancing AFSOC Health Engagement Missions

Published Aug 8, 2012

by David E. Thaler, Gary Cecchine, Anny Wong, Timothy Jackson


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Research Questions

  1. What is the military's role in building partner health capacity to deliver essential medical, dental, and veterinary services to populations in need?
  2. What lessons can be drawn from the experiences of outside organizations on ways U.S. military forces can maximize their effectiveness in helping build partner health capacity?
  3. How can AFSOC plan and execute BPC-H missions based on these lessons?

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has developed an approach to planning for, assessing, and enhancing the effectiveness of missions to build partner capacity in health. These missions are systematic, long-term efforts to enhance the ability of governments in developing states that are important to U.S. interests to deliver essential medical, dental, and veterinary services to vulnerable populations. Helping to improve local public health and providing health services is expected to support the extension of good governance and counter insurgent and terrorist infiltration, recruitment, and exploitation. AFSOC believes that its health assets can be more effectively and systematically used by combatant commanders in achieving their theater security cooperation objectives, in conjunction with other organizations. This report documents the results of three research tasks undertaken to assist AFSOC in executing its mission: (1) placing health security in the context of U.S. strategy and security cooperation efforts; (2) drawing lessons from outside organizations on ways U.S. military forces can maximize their effectiveness in helping build partner health capacity; (3) developing a framework for planning and executing partner health capacity missions. Key findings are presented, along with recommendations for maximizing the effectiveness of efforts to build partner health capacity.

Key Findings

The U.S. Military Has an Important Role to Play in Building the Health Capacity of Partner Nations

  • Theater commands are the key to closing the gap between guidance and execution of health capacity building.
  • Efforts to build partner health capacity can be either supported or supporting operations.
  • AFSOC's health-capacity-building "niche" in the near term appears to be the mission itself.
  • Successfully building and sustaining partner health capacity in less-developed regions requires long-term effort and commitment, in synchronization with other military and civilian agencies and organizations, and this may conflict with shorter-term theater command priorities.
  • Well-defined, multiyear plans are critical to success.


  • Communicate the health-capacity-building concept and approach repeatedly to external audiences.
  • Schedule multiple visits to the partner nations each year throughout the duration of U.S. military involvement when planning for specific programs.
  • Engage stakeholders early in the planning process and in program development and design.
  • Assess health-capacity-building activities by both military and developmental measures of effectiveness.
  • Approach early excursions with an eye toward learning lessons and adapting procedures based on experience.
  • Consider the "risk" of success — evaluate the trade-offs between improving health capacity and other requirements.
  • Examine whether and how AFSOC's concept and approach are scalable to the general-purpose Air Force.
  • Consider dedicating significant resources to forming a cadre of medical personnel with regional focus and expertise in health-capacity-building planning and execution.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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