LANDSTUHL, Germany — For U.S. Army Colonel Kenneth Spicer, helping your fellow man is more than just a courtesy, it’s a way of life.
“Public health is omnipresent,” Spicer said in front of fellow service men and women June 30 at a traditional change of command ceremony. “When the next public health challenge arises, rest assured this team will be ready to tackle it head on with poise and professionalism.”
Spicer, a Mexico native, came a long way from being a farmhand on his parents’ grange to leading the Army’s Public Health Command Europe (PHCE) Division of the larger Regional Health Command Europe (RHCE)— the military entity responsible for U.S. Army medical treatment, dental or veterinarian facilities throughout central Europe.
As public health commander, Spicer leads nearly 400 service members throughout Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Spain and Italy providing comprehensive military public health programs to service members.
As a child, Spicer spent significant time outdoors working alongside his parents reaping the knowledge of animal care. His father, Daniel, and mother, Marlene Rasha, supported spending time outside and through that encouragement, his passion and path became clear.
“The work outdoors on the farm and growing up in that environment kind of shaped that path I ended up on,” Spicer told The Palladium-Times during a recent interview.
While attending SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in the late 1990s, Spicer found an opportunity he couldn’t let pass on his journey toward the Army — a chance to step into the shoes of a young officer for a brief time in Germany through the Cadet Troop Leader Training program.
“I selected a unit in Germany based on location, and spent a month there as a college student training to get a sense how it was to serve as a young officer,” he said. “I love the culture here.”
With degrees in environmental and forest biology, and forest resource management, a 22-year-old Spicer returned to Germany for his first assignment in the Army as Wuerzburg Army Hospital’s environmental health chief leading a crew of a dozen service members overseeing the local food, water, and air quality.
One of the most memorable experiences of his decorated career wouldn’t come until much later, however. In 2009, Spicer traveled to Uganda for a two-month period overseeing U.S military members’ quality of food, water and living spaces as they completed a military-to-military training exercise, while also providing local humanitarian services.
“We had a water purification unit set up and it was really rewarding to build and help set it up in this very rural, remote location and provide clean drinking water for their local population,” he said.
Several of Spicer’s next assignments involved providing humanitarian services. He served as medical intelligence, operations, and plans officer for Public Health Command Europe and acted as NATO Force Health Protection Working Group secretary from 2009 to 2012, combating environmental and public health issues at the highest levels of the international military medical community.
In August 2012, Spicer returned to the United States to provide relief to residents throughout New York and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy while commanding the 172nd Preventive Medicine Detachment from Fort Bragg, North Carolina — his first of three command positions.
From 2016 to 2018, Spicer rose to commanding the Public Health Activity Rheinland-Pfalz unit overseeing care for military working dogs at Army veterinarian clinics located throughout Germany and Belgium.
The Public Health Activity Rheinland-Pfalz unit provides veterinary services to military communities throughout Europe and completes sanitary audits of commercial food entities and provision of food safety/defense and animal medicine, according to the Public Health Command Europe’s website (rhce.amedd.army.mil).
For his next assignment, Spicer stepped away from a position of command to a position acting as the “eyes, ears, voice and conscience” for Regional Health Command Europe leaders.
“As command inspector general, you provide impartial, objective and unbiased oversight to the organization through relevant, timely and thorough inspections and assistance in investigations and teaching,” he said.
On June 30, Spicer was promoted to public health commander following Colonel Brian Spangler’s relinquishment of the position in pursuit of a United States-based position.
With more than two decades of experience working to better the global quality of life, Spicer said he was “confident” stepping into the role and was ready for the challenges ahead.
“I’m a firm believer that public health is one of the fundamental pillars of a well-functioning society,” he said. “I am proud to be part of the public health community to help the greater community.”