Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service

Scientist Professional Advisory Committee

Deployment to Puerto Rico for Zika Response 2016 

By LCDR Jorge Muñiz Ortiz, PhD, DABT 

Toxicologist
Risk Assessment and Science Support Branch
Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention/Office of Pesticide Programs
US Environmental Protection Agency

  

What was the mission of this deployment?

To help coordinate federal efforts with state and territorial efforts to manage the impact of the Zika virus public health emergency.

 

What was your role during this deployment?

I was deployed to Puerto Rico to work at the Zika Unified Coordination Group (UCG), where I served as the Support Branch Director of the Logistics Section. In my first role as a logistics officer, the skills required were more clerical and human resources oriented.  

I was then transferred to the Operations Section as an Operational Support Officer. As an operations officer, I oversaw and reviewed information provided to the UCG command from 6 Coordination Branches (Reproductive Health, Child Services, Family Services, Education and Outreach, Vector Control, Surveillance/Epidemiology/Laboratory). The information provided was summarized, in coordination with the Planning Section, into a Situational Report which was submitted to the Incident Commander for review. The information in these reports are used to brief the White House on the Zika response in Puerto Rico.

 

Was this your first deployment?

Yes.

 

What was the most important thing you learned during this deployment?

Be willing to perform any role given.  Be humble about the roles assigned. Remember, it's not about what you do, but for who you do it.

 

What did you enjoy the most about this deployment?

The fact that I was given the chance to give back to the people of Puerto Rico, the island where I grew up. I was proud to be working alongside the people who saw me grow up.

 

What would you consider to be your major accomplishment stemming from this deployment?

The UCG's efforts to decrease the impact of the Zika virus in the island was multifaceted. There were six lines of efforts that targeted Zika via different routes. I was given the chance to supervise six CDC employees who led these six lines of effort. This is the first time I was given the opportunity to supervise and also arrange the reporting of their efforts to the Incident Commander. I believe my skills and knowledge in science helped me navigate meetings with the PR Dept. of Health, meetings with the PR Emergency Management Administration and the PR Environmental Quality Board. I never thought that I would be in a position where mayors and secretaries of departments were at an arm’s length. It was truly a blessing to have my credentials recognized and to be able to help the people from the island where I grew up.

 

What were some of the challenges that you experienced during this deployment?

Sometimes I realized I should have asked more questions about what exactly was expected of me because either I was not explicitly told or I didn’t ask to clarify. At times, when deadlines were closing in or even after reports were turned in, the information captured was incomplete. However, after achieving improved communications with command, the goals were clear and accomplished for the rest of the deployment.

 

How did you prepare for the deployment – personally or work-wise?

Personally, I made sure my wife had access to all bank accounts and I set up automatic payments of bills. I also left a copy of my passport and CAC with my wife. Our friends in the area were notified of my month-long deployment so they could be of help to my wife and daughter.

 Work-wise, every project that I was involved in was discussed with my supervisor, and a point of contact was identified who could either continue the project or who was knowledgeable enough to answer questions regarding the project. When I asked for supervisory approval, the whole chain of command at work was notified. 

There were no breakdowns in my plans as we had time to plan, knowing for months in advance that the deployment would be a possibility.

 

Were there any classes, trainings that you had completed prior to your deployment that helped you in your current deployment?

No, not really.  However, I did have various lists of items that should be in the deployment bags, and I did use those. 

 

How was your post deployment/reintegration experience? Was it smooth to transition back to your daily life as experienced prior to deployment?

The post deployment/reintegration experience was not as complicated as I thought it was going to be. I did take two days of respite leave that helped me rest and relax. The transitions at home and at work went smoothly. 

 

Do you have any advice or “pearls of wisdom” for fellow officers who are being deployed/interested in deploying?

Listen, take notes, say “yes,” put your head down, and do the work.  Ask questions and be truthful when asked questions. Make sure everything is crystal clear, or at least as clear as possible. 

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your deployment?

I learned that deploying is a great experience and that the bonds built between officers is unique. I do believe though, that sometimes deployments should focus on sending the right officers to the place they are being called to. Sending officers to show that we are doing our job is one thing, but sending officers that represent the population they are going to is much more important than just sending officers to do the work. I believe the population feels that they matter, that they are important, and their lives are worth saving when they see themselves being represented by the officers that are helping.

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LCDR Muñiz Ortiz and team in Puerto Rico.

  

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