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    Part III: The anatomy of an ‘old dog’ mastering new tricks: A combat surgeon’s journey from the trenches of big business to the front lines of Afghanistan

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    Photo By Sgt. Breanne Pye | Capt. Douglas ‘Doc’ Powell, brigade surgeon assigned to Headquarters and...... read more read more

    Part Three: Envision the Future

    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Any truck driver, cyclist, or distance runner will tell you there are all sorts of interesting things to discover out on the open road, but one thing you are unlikely to find as you navigate the world’s highways is a wife.

    In continuing an epic journey mapped by extraordinary events and accomplishments, that’s exactly what Capt. Douglas ‘Doc’ Powell, brigade surgeon, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, managed to find.

    The 49-year-old former business executive for Burton Snowboards said he hadn’t thought much about finding a life-long companion; he already enjoyed the company of his faithful dog, Baxter, and a career marked by more wildly successful ventures than most folks manage to scrape together in a lifetime.

    “It was really fate that brought Heidi and I together,” said Powell. “I was in a bike shop one day and ran into a woman who told me she was going on a 100-mile bike ride the following day. Through the course of our conversation, the woman invited me to join her and a friend on the ride. It turned out that friend was my future wife, Heidi.”

    Thirty miles into the bike ride, Powell discovered that he and world-class triathlete, Heidi Grimm, only lived about two blocks away from each other in their Colorado Springs neighborhood. The rest, as they say, “is history.”

    After a little help from Powell’s dog, Baxter, and a six-month courtship, Powell and Grimm married shortly before ‘Doc’ deployed to Afghanistan with 1BCT, 4th Inf. Div., the ‘Raider’ Brigade.

    Heidi’s job really makes for an interesting dynamic between us, said Powell. She works for the U.S. Olympic committee, in the Paralympics division, setting up adaptive athletic programs at wounded warrior clinics across the country.

    “We are truly a team when it comes to taking care of soldiers,” said Powell. “As a doctor, I work to stabilize wounded and sick soldiers and get them back home where they can heal. As a director for adaptive athletic programs, Heidi takes those wounded and sick soldiers and gives them a way to take their life back.”

    In holding up his end of the partnership, Powell has done a sensational job at taking care of the warriors of ‘Raider’ Brigade and the Afghanistan National Security Forces said Lt. Col. David Meyer, executive officer, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

    “I can’t imagine having the guts and determination to change careers at 40,” said Meyer. “I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

    But Meyer said Powell always knows exactly where to start. Whether it’s turning one career in for another, or figuring out how to train hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police, who can’t read, how to administer advanced medical aid on the battlefield; ‘Doc’ always figures out a way to get the job done.

    Figuring out how to overcome seemingly impossible odds is exactly the sort of challenge that inspires Powell to continue his journey as a medical professional in the U.S. Army.

    “Being a doctor on the front lines gives me an opportunity to affect the care, well being and medical readiness of a more diverse population of people,” said Powell. “It’s an incredibly rewarding, interesting and challenging job.”

    Powell said ‘Raider’ Brigade has established a medical footprint throughout Afghanistan that extends across some of the most dangerous and geographically challenging terrain in the country.

    “To be able to deliver health care in an area that didn’t previously have an effective healthcare system in place gives me an incredible feeling of hope and accomplishment,” said Powell.

    During his deployment to Afghanistan, ‘Doc’ has done a lot more than just deliver health care to underprivileged villages throughout the country, he has helped design and implement a comprehensive medical training program for the ANSF that will be saving lives long after the last American boots leave Afghan soil.

    When he deployed to Afghanistan with ‘Raider’ Brigade in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Powell realized that the Afghan forces would never have access to the medical equipment U.S. forces routinely carry with them on mission.

    Instead of being discouraged with the quality of equipment he had to work with, Powell and his team began to put together a training manual for the ANSF which utilized common items they would find on the battlefield.

    As a large percentage of the Afghan population is illiterate, Powell and his team used step-by-step pictures to put the training manual together, so Afghan forces would not only understand it, but be able to pass the training on to their predecessors without the help of U.S. Forces.

    The manual Powell envisioned and put together is now a standard for ANSF medical training across Afghanistan.

    After all the success Powell has helped bring to ‘Raider’ Brigade during his time in Afghanistan, It’s hard to imagine how he could possibly find a way to challenge himself further as he transitions to the next step of his incredible journey.

    But as it is with the heroes from our history books, ‘Doc’ isn’t the type to settle for what he has already accomplished; he is absolutely certain there is still more to be done.

    So in June, Powell, Baxter and Heidi will be moving to the east coast to start yet another exciting chapter in their chronicles, as Powell begins a high-profile fellowship program, in critical care medicine, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

    “This fellowship is an opportunity for me to learn from, and work with, some of the best trauma and burn physicians in the world,” said Powell. “It’s also an opportunity for me to teach new resident doctors and medical students critical care medicine.”

    “Powell has an exceptional ability to teach,” said Meyer. “He easily identifies how people learn, and without passing judgment, is able to create an environment of knowledge for them.”

    As Powell has already proven himself an exceptional teacher, Meyer is confident ‘Doc’ will bring his combat experience to the next generation of brigade physicians and give them the tools to succeed, as Powell has.

    Though he’s very much looking forward to beginning his fellowship in Washington, D.C., Powell said he doesn’t plan on slowing down his efforts to continue expanding ‘Raider’ Brigade’s medical footprint in Afghanistan any time soon.

    “My goal right now is to continue to make sure ‘Raider’ Brigade is prepared for any medical contingency that might come up,” said Powell. “Experiencing success with the programs we’ve already implemented here only makes the last few months of this deployment vital to creating even more progress.”

    Even as his combat deployment draws to an end, Powell is still finding ways to solve problems; he is still climbing the mountain and finding his way to the valley below, where the finish line awaits.

    In reflecting on the end of his time as a brigade surgeon and the steps it took to get there, Powell said he is just as inspired to continue his work in public service as he was the very first time he volunteered on the cancer ward in Vermont in 1999.

    “Twelve years after I began my journey, I am still discovering, still experiencing rewards that are indescribable,” said Powell. “This calling is as strong and motivating to me now, as it was the day I began my work in the medical field.”

    Through everything he has accomplished, ‘Doc’ has maintained a sense of humility and gratitude that is equally as impressive as his desire to continue to improve his medical knowledge and expertise.

    “The amazing thing about ‘Doc’, is there are so many layers to him; just when you peel back one layer and think you have him figured out, you discover another amazing piece to his puzzle,” said Meyer. “Every conversation overturns another bit of experience, education or training he’s been through and I’m impressed all over again.”

    Meyer said one of the things that makes Powell so incredible is he’s accomplished so many epic feats, but you’d never know it unless you asked him directly or heard it secondhand.

    He won’t tell you his story is special or unique. He doesn’t think he has accomplished something that each and every human being on earth isn’t capable of.

    What Powell will say, is he’s come to realize through his journey, is that it only ‘seemed’ very daunting to say he was going to quit a great job and spend the next 12 years working toward a seemingly impossible goal. But when he looks back at his journey, life wasn’t suspended for those 10 years.

    “I think when people consider taking a long journey like I have done, they see the beginning and the end,” said Powell. “They don’t realize there is a great amount of life experience collected along the way.”

    “Each place I traveled throughout this journey has brought great friends and experiences with it,” he said. “When I reached my destination I looked up and I had less hair and it was all white, but I knew I had done it, without giving up life to get it done.”

    If there’s one piece of advice Powell could give people considering a life-changing journey like the one he’s accomplished, it would be to focus on one stage at a time.

    “It’s not possible to start an epic journey like this and get yourself to the end without help,” said Powell. “You make it to the first fork in the road, then up the pass and through the mountains; then down into the valley. Ultimately, it’s about linking all the little sections together to get to the end”

    For Powell, the end of one epic journey is just the beginning of another.

    As he prepares to depart the ranks of the ‘Raider’ Brigade, Powell will be celebrated and remembered by his fellow soldiers, as a man with an unquenchable thirst to help others, who always led by example.

    In completing his epic journey, Powell not only embraced and upheld the United States Medical Corps motto: ‘Embrace the past. Engage the present. Envision the future,’ but he has passed that torch of inspiration on to a new generation of dreamers, whom he hopes will carry it long after he has moved into the next chapter of his incredible life.



    Date Taken: 03.28.2011
    Date Posted: 03.28.2011 00:45
    Story ID: 67824
    Location: KANDAHAR, AF 

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