WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — A background which includes threads of both typical and atypical events, led to the appointment of Col. Robert Marks, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command Surgeon, as the first male Nurse Corps general officer, as well as the first male chief nurse of the Air Force Nurse Corps.
“Instead of focusing on being the first male chief nurse, I prefer to think of myself as the next nurse qualified to do the job, who just happens to be male,” said Marks. “I am humbled to be picked among other strong contenders.”
His career progression transitioned from staff nurse to emergency room nurse, to flight nurse, to squadron and group command, to AFMC command surgeon.
Marks’ confirmation on Dec. 21, 2017, was the culmination of years of “hard work, finding his passion and doing the best he could at it”, said Col. Bret Burton, HQ AFMC deputy command surgeon.
Family influenced Marks’ initial career direction. Early exposure to the military came through his father who fought in Vietnam and sparked a desire to serve. Marks joined the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in high school and enlisted as an infantryman in the Army Reserve upon graduation.
As an enlisted Army troop, Marks gained a unique perspective and sense of purpose.
“I loved almost every moment of it,” said Marks. My Army Reserve enlisted time set me on the right path” he said.
While in the Reserve, he earned an associate degree in nursing, a natural fit because his mother trained as a nurse and his aunt and grandmother were nurses. When he needed to earn money to continue his college education in engineering, he thought of nursing, a career change he has not regretted. While in the Reserve he completed his education, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 1989. Degree in hand, he accepted a commission in the Air Force Nurse Corps that same year.
During his first active-duty assignment as a staff nurse at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, then-lieutenant Marks was advised by his supervisor and mentor to become an Aeromedical Evacuation nurse. As an air evacuation flight nurse, he served on the C-9, C-17 and C-130.
“The most rewarding part of these assignments was returning wounded personnel, some critically injured, to higher levels of care and short notice deployments for disaster response missions with report times of as little as 12 hours,” said Marks
Marks smiled as he recollected setting up the ground base hospital during his deployment to Ali Al Salem, Kuwait in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“There was nothing there. We did everything, built it from the ground up,” said Marks.
For others interested in similar career paths, Marks recommends making a plan. He put together a list of jobs he would like and continues to pull out the list, every so often just to make sure he is loosely moving in the right direction.
“Make a plan. Have an idea of where you want to go. Then determine the path. Journeys are not straight paths. Sometimes adjustments are needed based on organizational changes,” he said.
Though Marks is the first male nurse in the Air Force to achieve the rank of brigadier general, the Army and Navy have personnel who have also achieved this milestone.
Threads of family tradition, supervisor’s guidance and mentorship created a patchwork path in Col. Marks’ career, culminating in the rank of brigadier general.
Brigadier general-select Marks will assume new responsibilities in the near future. His promotion date has not been released.