SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – For 30 years, Dr. Scott Ecklund has been practicing family medicine and providing quality health care to South Dakota families. Ecklund, 58, begins a new chapter in his medical profession as the most recent physician to join the South Dakota Army National Guard.
When not examining patients at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, Ecklund will put his medical expertise to work providing medical care for soldiers. Wearing the rank of major, Ecklund will substitute his traditional white lab coat for an Army combat uniform and will serve with the 730th Area Support Medical Company of Vermillion, S.D.
“I think men and women in today’s military have performed brilliantly – in everything that we have asked them to do – and sometimes we’ve asked so much and give them back so little,” said Ecklund, a resident of Brandon, S.D. “That makes me really want to try to help out and is why I decided to join.”
Ecklund also serves in the S.D. Legislature in the House of Representatives for District 25. In his first year of the legislature, Ecklund met a fellow legislator who also serves in the National Guard. It’s here where he first considered joining the Guard.
“When I was out at the legislature in January, I met Jim Seward and we talked about the National Guard. We have a National Guard breakfast where they invite all the legislators to come and hear about what the Guard does,” said Ecklund. “That’s why I decided to do it. I was shocked that they would actually take an old guy like me, but they did.”
Ecklund said he always wanted to serve in military. His father served during the Korean War in the Navy.
“He was actually in the Seabees, and he was stationed in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay,” said Ecklund of his father’s service. “That’s the only military connection that I really have. I always hear his stories about being in the military; he was a 20-year-old kid when he was in.”
Now, Ecklund will be telling stories to his kids and grandkids: he has four children, four grandchildren and a fifth on the way – all with his wife of 30 years, Alison.
So at 58 years of age, Ecklund is making up for lost time. A native of Minnetonka, Minn., just outside of Minneapolis, Ecklund came to South Dakota after high school and went to Augustana College in 1974.
“I have been here ever since I went to medical school,” said Ecklund. “After I graduated Augustana, I attended medical school at the University of South Dakota, did my residency in Sioux Falls and married a Sioux Falls girl. South Dakota is my home.”
Ecklund says he always wanted to serve in the military, but the timing never quite worked out. When he graduated high school, Vietnam was winding down.
“Vietnam was kind of done and there was no real need for people to enlist. Right after college I went to medical school, started residency and then started practicing,” said Ecklund. “I have always felt like I missed something because I never served. I would be at banquets and people would say, ‘Would those in our armed forces please stand up,’ and people would applaud. I always thought I wish I would have served in some way.”
Now that Ecklund finally has his opportunity to serve his state and nation, he looks forward to the experiences he will have.
“I know that if there is a deployment opportunity, I would welcome the chance to go. Not that I want to go to war or anything, but I want to be there to help,” said Ecklund. “I think that I have enough experience over the years with counseling and dealing with all kinds of issues being in family medicine. I think I can actually help some of these young people that are either wounded, have some stress problems or PTSD. I look forward to being able to help in that regard.”
Either in his role as a doctor or as a legislator, helping and serving people is something Ecklund knows well and is something he looks forward to for as long as he is able.
“They say they have waivered me and I can serve in the Guard until I’m 68, so I am going to go and see what it is like and hopefully be able to help some people out,” said Ecklund. “Maybe it’s not for me and if it isn’t I guess I’ll look for something else, but so far all indications seem to be that it is the right decision for me to make.”