News: Ohio University alumni serve together in Kuwait
Story by Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – More than 20 years ago, in Athens, Ohio, during an Ohio University campus tour, Dean Nelson, then a brand new medical student, met Lorrie Oldham, by then already two years into the university’s medical program, and thought she was both friendly and helpful. In that regard, he said, some things never change.
Nelson, who is now a major in the U.S. Army, graduated from Ohio University in 1994, Oldham, now a colonel, graduated in 1992. Both took separate paths toward military service, hers a bit more direct.
Nelson had wanted to join the Army since graduating from high school but was hampered by blindness in one eye. He devoted himself to raising a family of five with his wife and almost set aside the idea of the military. It wasn’t until a family care conference five years ago that Nelson met with recruiters from the Army Reserve, began the medical waiver process, and was able to realize his dream of wearing the uniform.
Oldham entered the military on a dare but found that as her career progressed, the variety of assignments and tasks helped augment her daily routine as a surgeon. She welcomed the personal and professional challenges that accompanied military service and has remained in the Army for 30 years of combined service.
When Nelson reunited with Oldham during a recent deployment to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to serve as an emergency room physician, he felt a flash of recognition and upon learning she had graduated from Ohio University, knew her to be the same woman from all those years ago. During a brief catch-up conversation the two discovered that, there was a third Ohio University alum working in the soldier clinic adjacent to the hospital: Maj. Todd Gerwig, who graduated in 2005.
There are more than 200,000 Ohio University alumni, but for all three of the physicians, it was their first time working with other alumni and it was particularly interesting, given they were all deployed to Kuwait for the same rotation. The odds of three officers serving together are rare considering, reserve physicians augment the active duty physician force through 90-day rotations because the military became aware that longer deployments were interfering with the success of civilian medical practices and employment opportunities.
“Because we all live in different parts of the country, since graduation and after residency, I don’t get to see fellow alumni that often. I’ve been out west in Montana. So, it was just exciting. What are the chances of three Ohio University graduates being on the same deployment?” said Nelson.
Oldham said she welcomed the chance to reminisce about the university and to learn, especially from Gerwig, how the university had changed since she graduated. Were there any of the same professors around? What was the makeup of the classes, how diverse, in terms of age, race and gender? She said she felt invested in following the progress of the school.
“It’s always nice to see that a decision you made twenty years is in a school is still producing quality physicians,” said Oldham. “It’s just good to see where the school is and who is coming next!”
Gerwig, who commissioned in 2011, after working for a Veterans Affairs clinic in Rochester, N.Y., said he has benefited greatly from mentorship from his fellow alums – in particular, the colonel.
“She has had a lot of military experience, and it has been really valuable to talk to her about how you can shape your Reserve career. She has a lot of good guidance."
Overall, in addition to their time at Ohio University and their profession, what binds the three is patriotism and a sense of obligation to help other service members.
“In talking to the physicians, we all seem to have a commitment to our country. I don’t care if they’re old like me, or young, there’s a common commitment to America, that’s why we’re here,” said Oldham.
Nelson agreed, “There’s something satisfying to wear the uniform that represents the United States of America, a country that I love, but to also serve the soldiers who are giving all to serve their country. It’s something very profound and really hard to put into words.”