MY TURN: He has waged two immensely difficult battles


One of my nephews, Andrew, has grown accustomed to being on the front line of battles, whether in Iraq as part of an U.S. Army tactical team or as an E.R. nurse at a Denver area hospital throughout the pandemic.

He admits that he would be hard-pressed to say which has been the tougher assignment, although a story he wrote several years ago would offer a hint.

"It was a cool Arabian night on the west bank of the Tigris River," Andrew wrote. "I had been patrolling the Iraqi streets for the past eight months, but this was the first night I found myself standing outside the emergency room doors of the Mosul Army Surgical Hospital, praying for the life of my friend Ben.

"Just minutes earlier, I had been part of a two-man carry that furiously descended several flights of narrow stairs through the living room of an Iraqi family's house, hurrying to our idling Stryker vehicles outside for immediate medical evacuation. We did what we could to stop the bleeding from Ben's three abdominal gunshot wounds, but his responsiveness was rapidly fleeting. After loading him in the vehicle with our medic, I hopped in another vehicle and we took off across the crumbling grey streets of western Mosul. Upon arriving at the airport, which housed the only medical aid for the allied coalition, we made our way to the hospital and got Ben to the operating room in what felt like an hour, but in reality was less than 20 minutes. Not long after, a surgeon met us in the waiting area and told us that Ben had died from his wounds. He explained that there was simply too much damage to repair, offered his condolences, and returned to his work. After shedding tears with my fellow platoon mates, I went outside. The fresh air helped me face the fact that it was pure luck I was not lying cold and motionless in the operating room along with Ben."

Both of Andrew's parents served in Vietnam, following their fathers who served in World War II.

"They gave me no illusions about the stark realities of war, however, nothing could have prepared me for the unimaginable suffering I would witness among the Iraqi population," Andrew wrote. "Treating the ill and injured, along with distributing supplies to civilians, was the only part of my service that did not eat away at my soul. Unfortunately, opportunities for humanitarian interactions were few and fleeting. It became clear to me that the insurgency we were fighting was in large part fueled by widespread misery.

"Basic sanitation services and power infrastructure were all but nonexistent," he said. "Hospitals were hopelessly underequipped. When schools were open, they were in operation for only a few hours in the morning. Virtually all public services had collapsed. Participating in the everyday horror of these conditions forever changed my perspective on who I am, and where I fit into the world. My only regret is that I did not enlist as a medic."

Upon his return to civilian life after 5 years of Army service, Andrew enrolled in college, earning a bachelor's degree and then a degree in nursing.

"My experience with earning trust will allow me to provide my patients with the sympathetic and open-minded attention they deserve," Andrew said as he embarked upon his nursing career. "That said, I believe health care is a basic human right."

The shortage of primary health care providers in the U.S. only heightened his motivation to become a nurse.

"I have a profound sense of responsibility to serve the community," he wrote. "I understand the immense responsibilities that come with the privilege of a medical education and look forward to the challenges of the endeavor, determined to leave a lasting imprint on the health care profession."

Especially now, as he considers the grim realities of year two of a pandemic.