CHDS Alum Supports U.S. Border Patrol’s EMS System During Massive Migrant Surge

When it comes to the southwestern U.S. border and the years-long migrant surge, Dr. John Martel has pretty much seen it all.

Dr. John Martel

The CHDS alum (Executive Leaders Program cohort 1902) has worked in the thick of the influx that has seen millions of migrants cross the border over the past few years, serving since 2022 as the U.S. Border Patrol’s Physician Medical Officer.

In that position, Martel is responsible for advising the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s largest EMS service, ranging from the EMT-B level up to the special operations Border Patrol Search, Trauma, Rescue (BORSTAR) Austere paramedic program, which deploys widely, including outside the continental U.S., as well as the humanitarian medical surge response at the border.

During that time, Martel spent six months as the Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of the Chief Medical Officer (OCMO) and currently serves as the CBP OCMO Senior Medical Advisor. 

Rio Grand Valley, TX, irregular migration surge prior to the expiration of Title 42 during the U.S. CBP’s Brownsville Camp Monument Deployment in April and May, 2023

He’s done all that while continuing to serve as Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, Maine Medical Center in Portland, ME.

Martel said his CHDS education helped him navigate the myriad challenges that confronted him. “I’m immensely grateful for the skills, strategies, and personal connections that came from the ELP experience,” he said. “My CHDS experience was very impactful.”

Last year, Martel was deployed to support medical surge operations at Camp Monument in Brownsville, TX, before the expiration of Title 42, which allowed restrictions on migration in the name of protecting public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also deployed to support the establishment of contingency and contract-based medical support structures in South Florida and the Keys in response to irregular maritime surge activity.

Then, late last year, Martel was deployed to the Three Points and Ajo, AZ, areas of responsibility (AOR) for irregular migration surges that required the establishment of an austere forward operating base medical clinic and closely coordinated with other federal, state, county, and tribal agencies/assets. 

A Forward Operating Base (FOB) medical clinic in the Three Points AOR in collaboration with the Tohono O’odham Nation in San Miguel, AZ, in December 2023

Noting that the southwest border is nearly 2,000 miles long and spans four states, Martel said it presents a highly diverse operating area that ranges from urban to some of the most remote geography in the lower 48 states. 

He said that significant challenges include a “nearly continuous” operational tempo with minimal relief between surges, presenting a “significant resilience challenge” for CBP personnel. Large migration volumes get pushed to various AORs on a rolling basis to some of the most remote and least medically resourced areas. 

Martel said this leads to significant impacts on CBP personnel staffing and wellness, the local healthcare and EMS systems, and local infrastructure and non-governmental organization support.

“Matching humanitarian medical support to surge volumes is nearly impossible due to the multiple locations where surges occur on a rolling basis, the vast geography, and the potential for multiple simultaneous AOR involvement,” he said, including the southwest border, maritime space in Florida and the Caribbean, and the northern border.

In addition to deployments, Martel supports multiple ongoing activities lines of effort, including:

  • Supporting the evolution of the CBP Border Health System, including the development of novel care and administrative protocols for frontier-based medical operations and close partnership with local healthcare systems and NGO stakeholders
  • Providing medical support for USBP special operations (BORSTAR and BORTAC [Border Patrol Tactical Unit]) selection course, training, and operational environments
  • Development and implementation of CBP EMS policy and protocols
  • Coordination with the DHS Office of Health Security (OHS) and various federal, state, local, and tribal stakeholders to develop nimble and exportable mass migration response plans

Martel is an Emergency Medicine and EMS Physician specializing in Operational Medicine and is a prior gubernatorially appointed member of the Maine Board of EMS. He is responsible for the development, implementation, and enforcement of rules governing prehospital medical practice and provision of care, including medical oversight of mass casualty incidents (MCI), disaster and pandemic response.

He began his public service career as a Firefighter/EMT just before 9/11.

Martel is a graduate of the University of Maine, the University of Vermont College of Medicine, and the University of Michigan Emergency Medicine Residency program.

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment |, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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