KABUL, Afghanistan - If you had told Tim Cheslock when he was in high school 20 years ago that he someday would be serving in the military in Afghanistan, he would have assumed he'd be in the cockpit of an Air Force jet.
But today, Cheslock is serving on the ground in Afghanistan as a doctor and a Pennsylvania Army National Guard major.
"This certainly isn't where I pictured myself being when I was younger," he said. "I originally thought I would be a pilot. I became involved in the Civil Air Patrol while in junior high and high school. Civil Air Patrol had the opportunity to learn about aviation and so much more. It was my major activity throughout my junior high and high school period.
"I think that had a huge influence on my decision to join the military."
But when he realized his eyesight wasn't good enough to be an Air Force pilot, Cheslock said he moved past that dream and focused on his second interest: medicine.
"I became involved in emergency services and search and rescue through the Hawk Mountain Ranger School," he said. "All of this instilled a sense of pride, dedication and commitment that helped me to where I am today."
Cheslock's search and rescue experience led him to become an emergency medical technician. "I really enjoyed pre-hospital emergency care," he said. "Being able to help in times of crisis and emergencies is very rewarding."
Still, Cheslock said, when the time for college drew near, he wasn't sure that medical school and the 12 years of continuous classes were what he wanted. At the time, he said, the profession of physician assistant was starting to take off and it "seemed like a good fit for me."
He earned his bachelor's degree from King's College. He began work as a physician assistant and continued his education, earning his master's degree in physician assistant studies through the University of Nebraska, but soon he was looking for a new challenge.
After three years of practicing primary care and family medicine and three more in emergency medicine, Cheslock enrolled in medical school, graduating in 2007 from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Back home, Cheslock is an emergency room doctor at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Since deploying in August, he has been primary care physician for New Kabul Compound. Along with four medics, he provides sick-call services and acute care to the more than 1,000 civilians and military personnel assigned here.
"In many ways, what I do here is exactly what I do at home," Cheslock said. "Coming to Afghanistan, I expected a more primitive setting - to be working at a small camp under harsh conditions. But, other than being smaller, the clinic here isn't very different from an emergency room back in the states."
Members of the clinic staff here say it is Cheslock who has made it that way.
"Major Cheslock is an emergency room physician. As such he has a wider array of skills than other doctors, [and] ... has experience in many of the illnesses and injuries we see," said Army Sgt. Joshua Pearson of the Colorado National Guard's 928th Area Support Medical Company, the clinic's noncommissioned officer in charge. "As a [physician assistant] prior to becoming a doctor, he has a firm grasp of the trauma skills like suturing, splinting and wound management."
Cheslock said the work here is mostly primary-care oriented - sick-call care, sports and training injuries, and minor emergencies. "That being said," he added, "we need to be ready and able to handle trauma at any time given the operational environment. While our capabilities here are limited to advanced trauma life support and stabilization that can often mean the difference between life and death if our soldiers become injured in battle."
Pearson said Cheslock is strong in all aspects of medicine. "He is an excellent teacher and instructs all of the medics weekly on various aspects of medicine," he said. "He has refined our clinical processes to make visits quicker."
Though he has been in the Guard for more than 14 years, this is Cheslock's first deployment. After so many years of service without deployment, he acknowledged, the orders taking him to Afghanistan were a surprise.
"I was surprised, but my wife was even more so than me," he said. "I think we always kept it in the back of our minds and didn't give it too much thought. When I was alerted last year, it hit home. But she understands this is part of being in the military, and I know she supports my decision to serve."
Cheslock's wife, Stephanie, said the deployment was something the couple had prepared for.
"We moved back to an area that is close to where we both grew up this past June, as we knew he would be deployed in September," she said. "We wanted to be close to family during that time."
While Stephanie and their children - Abigail, 6, and Claire, 3 - await his return, Cheslock said, he is enjoying the chance to work with and help the service members and civilians here.