Back to Top Skip to main content

Guarding the health of service members

James Coker focuses on protecting service member health every day as deputy chief of the Public Health Division at the Defense Health Agency. Here he is exploring a Mount Denali glacier “off the clock” while stationed in Alaska as a public health flight commander at Elmendorf Air Force Base. (Courtesy photo) James Coker focuses on protecting service member health every day as deputy chief of the Public Health Division at the Defense Health Agency. Here he is exploring a Mount Denali glacier “off the clock” while stationed in Alaska as a public health flight commander at Elmendorf Air Force Base. (Courtesy photo)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Public Health

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — James Coker began his career as a public health officer at Yokota Air Base, Japan. During a quarantine inspection of an aircraft infested with beetles, Coker collected samples for laboratory identification, where one turned out to be a previously unidentified beetle species. Today, that sample, named after the base, is part of the National Archives, and serves as a memory of Coker’s introduction to public health.

“Quarantining infested aircraft that arrive is a standard procedure that helps avoid introducing a foreign, invasive species that could affect the environment – for example, the brown tree snake in Guam or the coqui frog in Hawaii,” said Coker.

In his current role as deputy chief with the Defense Health Agency’s Public Health Division, Coker is still helping to protect the health of service members. Military, civilian, and contractor personnel in Public Health work together in six major areas: individual medical readiness and deployment health, immunizations, preventive health, occupational and environmental health, veterinary services, and the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch, which tracks disease around the world.

“Looking across the Military Health System, we identify ways to standardize health programs and find efficiencies,” said Coker. “One example is the optimized Department of Defense, Periodic Health Assessment. It incorporated a mandated annual mental health assessment,” he said. “Everyone across the services now answers the same questions. And, service members only have to make one appointment, which reduces time away from work.”

A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel after 23 years, Coker feels his military service prepared him well for his current duties with DHA.

“I enjoy working on disease outbreaks, emergency care and preparedness, and humanitarian relief activities,” said Coker. “Continuous learning and new discoveries are what make me most excited about my job. You definitely have to keep abreast of what’s happening around the world.”

Coker’s military service and personal travels have taken him through all 50 states and to more than 78 countries. It was in Germany where Coker took his first assignment as a newly enlisted Air Force aeromedical technician and began his love of travel and public health. He gave vaccinations to the flying population and others preparing to deploy for Operation Desert Storm.

In December 2001, Coker found himself stationed in Oman’s 101-degree weather. Soon after arriving, he moved on with an advanced reconnaissance team to a former Soviet state, trudging through snow up to his knees. He was part of the team that surveyed, secured, and then opened an air base at Manas Airport in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The air base became a vital staging ground for the coalition effort in Afghanistan, both during Operation Enduring Freedom and then for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

“We lived in tents and used kerosene stoves – it was very cold there. In addition to ensuring force health protection, safety, and food supplies, we examined the site for any potential environmental issues. We looked to see if there were vaccines or other preventive requirements needed to protect our forces deploying to the area,” Coker said.

Whether using health surveillance to evaluate the effectiveness of the influenza immunization or advising on safe food practices, “we all have that common vision of protecting our forces,” Coker said. “We have some great people – intelligent physicians, scientists, and other professionals in the Public Health Division. We’ll continue working together with the services to synchronize and improve the future of military public health.”

As for Coker’s travel wish list, he says the world is a big place. “I could return to favorite places like Barcelona and Buenos Aires or return to Michigan to visit family. When I decide to retire for a second time, I want to continue exploring and living in new places where I haven’t been before.”

You also may be interested in...

Antibiotic resistance a serious threat that's growing, CDC warns

Article
11/15/2019
A bacteriology researcher at the Institute of Medical Research swabs an isolated sample of streptococcus pneumonia in Goroka, Papua New Guinea, June 4, 2015. The researcher is testing the bacteria to determine if the strain has sensitivity to antibiotics or if it is resistant.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Morris/Released)

Newly published paper outlines issue, offers possible solutions

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Public Health

Preventing seasonal influenza

Article
11/13/2019
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jaqueline Mbugua and members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Medical Group traveled to the Roxy Theater on Joint Base Cape Cod to provide flu shots to Airmen Nov. 2, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Swanson).

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Immunization Healthcare | Immunizations

The art of moulage

Article
11/6/2019
Combat Medic Training program students at the Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston conduct an emergency cricothyrotomy on a “casualty” during simulation training. The “wounded” manikin also presents with facial burns that were created with moulage techniques. (DoD photo by Lisa Braun)

METC combat medic manikins rock realistic wounds

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Military exchanges extinguish vape sales

Article
10/18/2019
Vape products, including e-cigs, e-cigarettes, vapes, and e-hookahs, are electronic nicotine delivery devices that heat a sometimes flavored nicotine-infused liquid into a vapor that users inhale. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service and the Navy Exchange Service have discontinued the sale of vape products. (DoD photo by Marvin D. Lynchard)

The long-term effects of vaping are unknown and not understood

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Tobacco-Free Living

The Defense Health Agency participates in AUSA 2019 annual meeting

Article
10/18/2019
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, DHA Director, discusses upcoming Military Health System changes designed to improve the readiness of combat forces during a seminar held at the Association of the United States Army 2019 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.  Lt. Gen. Place explained how DHA is standardizing systems to improve healthcare across the enterprise.  (DHA Photo by Hannah Wagner)

Focus on quality care, innovation at home and on the battlefield

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Preventive Health

The Military Training Network transitions to the Defense Health Agency

Article
10/11/2019
The Military Training Network or MTN transferred from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences to the Defense Health Agency in September 2019. MTN oversees basic, advanced, and pediatric life-support training for more than 350,000 medical and non-medical personnel at 345 military facilities around the globe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandra Singer)

Shift speeds training where it’s needed most

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

The Head, Hand, and Heart of Women’s Health

Article
10/4/2019
Maintaining peak health is critical for all military personnel. This month, we focus on women whose health concerns and symptoms may be different from those in men. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Roger Jackson)

Health is universal for military personnel and civilians, but some health concerns affect women differently. Here are a few examples.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Preventive Health | Women's Health

MSMR Vol. 26 No. 10 - October 2019

Report
10/1/2019

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Editorial: The Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs Vision Center of Excellence; Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to ocular and vision-related conditions, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2018; Incidence and temporal presentation of visual dysfunction following diagnosis of traumatic brain injury, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2006–2017; Incidence and prevalence of selected refractive errors, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2001–2018; Incident and recurrent cases of central serous chorioretinopathy, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2001–2018

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

International medics tackle Tactical Combat Casualty Care

Article
9/23/2019
Air Force students provide cover while pulling a ‘wounded’ training mannequin out of simulated line-of-fire during the Tactical Combat Casualty Care course at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. Battlefield simulation drills are vital to provide medics and combat personnel with realistic situations where they provide life-saving care and evacuation of wounded. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Lackey)

TCCC has become the new standard of medical training proficiency for military personnel

Recommended Content:

Combat Support | Health Readiness

Health agencies investigating severe lung illnesses linked to e-cigarette use

Article
9/12/2019
"While the CDC investigation of the possible cases of lung illness and deaths reportedly associated with the use of e-cigarette products is ongoing, Service members and their families or dependents are encouraged not to use e-cigarette products,” advised Dr. Terry Adirim, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Health Services Policy and Oversight. (DoD photo)

Thirty-three states report 450 possible cases, six deaths

Recommended Content:

Tobacco-Free Living | Substance Abuse | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 26 No. 9 - September 2019

Report
9/1/2019

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Editorial: The Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs Vision Center of Excellence; Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to ocular and vision-related conditions, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2018; Incidence and temporal presentation of visual dysfunction following diagnosis of traumatic brain injury, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2006–2017; Incidence and prevalence of selected refractive errors, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2001–2018; Incident and recurrent cases of central serous chorioretinopathy, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2001–2018

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 26 No. 8 - August 2019

Report
8/1/2019

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Modeling Lyme disease host animal habitat suitability, West Point, New York; Incidence, timing, and seasonal patterns of heat illnesses during U.S. Army basic combat training, 2014–2018; Update: Heat illness, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2018; Update: Exertional rhabdomyolysis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2014–2018; Update: Exertional hyponatremia, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2003–2018

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

Tick Facts: Dangers at the height of tick season

Article
7/31/2019
A tick like this one, seen at 10x magnification, can spread a number of dangerous pathogens during the warm-weather months. (Photo by Cornel Constantin)

Many diseases are transferred to humans by ticks — Lyme is the most common, but several others, described here, are worth knowing about

Recommended Content:

Bug-Borne Illnesses | Bug Week: July 27 - August 2 | Tick-Borne Illnesses | Health Readiness | Preventive Health | Public Health

U.S., Royal Air Force Aeromedical Evacuation Squadrons train together

Article
7/26/2019
Reserve Citizen Airmen from Joint Base Charleston's 315th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron prepare a mock patient during a drill inside a C-17 Globemaster III, July 10, 2019. Drills performed while in-flight are to mimic real-life scenarios that the 315 AES may encounter. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman William Brugge)

The C-17 Globemaster III serves as a common platform for medevacs in both squadrons

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Building Partner Capacity and Interoperability

Stop the Bleed: A battlefield innovation on civilian soil

Article
7/19/2019
USU's Dr. Craig Goolsby (center) observes as high school students at a conference in Orlando, Florida, practice using a tourniquet after watching a web-based tutorial. Goolsby is researching effective teaching methods as part of a grant to develop a trauma first-aid course for students that incorporates elements of Stop the Bleed. (USU photo by Sarah Marshall)

Program teaches public how to respond to bleeding emergencies

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Innovation | Medical Research and Development | Emergency Preparedness and Response
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 47

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.