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NEWS | Dec. 29, 2010

Massachusetts family doctor deploys to Iraq

By Sgt. Glen Baker 224th Sustainment Brigade

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq - A family physician motivated to join the Massachusetts National Guard after he heard about a critical need for military doctors is making a difference here.

Army Maj. Martin Lesser is serving as a field surgeon with the 224th Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

Lesser asked civilian colleagues to substitute for him at his private practice in Hollyoke, Mass., after being asked to serve for 120 days to serve at the 224th Sustainment Brigade Troop Medical Clinic at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq.

Lesser, 58, joined the Massachusetts National Guard in December 2008 as a major in the medical corps.

“I was told that there was a serious shortage of physicians in the military,” Lesser said.

“This was just an unbearable thought, being told that there was a shortage, so I responded, ‘Well, if I were younger, then maybe I could help you.’ And they responded, ‘Don’t worry about that, we have age exemptions.’ So a recruiter decided to look me in the eye and say, ‘We desperately need you.’”

A solo practitioner in family medicine for 18 years, Lesser resides in Longmeadow, Mass.

Age didn’t deter him from joining the National Guard.

“I was told that age was not a consideration,” he said. “I was also told there was a limit to how long they send doctors out. So I didn’t think it could get any easier than that. I almost couldn’t imagine saying no.”

Lesser described how his colleagues are managing his workload in his absence.

“They are seeing my patients in my office and they are using my charts,” he said.

“There are four different providers. One physician is working four shifts. Each shift is roughly four hours. Then I have one working two shifts, which is an entire day, and two working an afternoon. So basically they were volunteering to do anywhere from one shift per week to four. … They’re also doing their own “deployment.’ It’s a limited time; they know when I’m supposed to come back, so there’s an end in sight.”

Lesser said that he learned a lot from his four-week basic training at Fort. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

“The training did not consist of teaching us medicine,” he said. “The training was learning about the Army. The Army has a program for entering healthcare officers. That includes everybody from physicians and surgeons to dieticians and psychologists, and we all trained together.

“[The training includes] how to wear a uniform and how to be in formation. Some of it is a traditional boot camp. Most of the classroom stuff is how the Army is organized.

“We had physical training every day at five in the morning. We did land navigation courses. We were introduced to firearms. We carried M-16s [assault rifles] with us, just like any Soldier does.”

Lesser said that he got into excellent physical condition during his basic training.

“I came out of it in the best shape I’ve ever been,” he said. “I knew that we couldn’t hire a private trainer that could duplicate something like that. I went from being sedentary to being able to run 4 ½ miles at the end of four weeks.

“I was very proud of that.

“What I liked most was formation. I liked just the idea that, in less than a minute, all 550 of us were assembled and we knew where everybody was. We could move as a group.”

Lesser described how he learned to treat combat injuries at Fort Sam Houston during a five-day course that teaches technical combat medical care. This training includes stabilizing traumatic wounds and loss of limbs.

He went on to describe his experiences in Iraq compared to his work at home.

“The experience has been very good,” Lesser said. “I had to first get used to the bureaucracy, because before you can do anything, you have to know how to use the Army electronic medical records and their information sources.

“I had to get used to that. It was a little frustrating to learn that I had a lot of computer work before I could even see the patient, but once the Soldiers came in, time just flew, and I loved it.”

Army Capt. Gabriel Fabian, surgeon section officer-in-charge with the 224th, and a Menifee, Calif., native, is one of Lesser’s colleagues during this deployment.

“Even though I’m the OIC, Maj. Lesser is the brains as far as the medicine is concerned,” he said. “As the logisticians and statisticians, we take care of that side of the house, but any medical decision that needs to be made on a patient – Dr. Lesser is the senior medical provider there. I handle the administrative paperwork side of the house; he handles the patient side of the house.”

Fabian described Lesser’s greatest strengths, which include his 18 years of experience in family medicine and his willingness to accept guidance and advice from other people in the unit.

“He’s been very open to any suggestions on how to adapt to the Army culture,” said Fabian.

“He’s humble, but at the same time, he knows all his stuff pertaining to medicine.”

Fabian also described Lesser’s willingness to be in Iraq when the choice was completely up to him.

“I just want to recognize that Dr. Lesser really didn’t have to be here,” said Fabian. “He felt the right thing to do was to come out here and provide medicine. I’m very grateful that he came to that decision to be out here with us.”



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