The story about 74 year old Dr. (Lt Col) John Burson`s recent deployment to Afghanistan - after two prior deployments to Iraq - has been all over the news lately. (If you haven't see it, check it out here.) But he's not the only former military doctor headed back downrange.
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq - Col. Lionel M. Nelson is a man of many hats. A former Air Force Reservist, and a retired Army Reservist, Nelson came out of a five-year retirement and shut down his private practice in San Jose, Calif., to participate in the "90 Days Boots on the Ground" program, a program that gives former military doctors the opportunity to deploy to Iraq for 90 days. Nelson's part in the program allowed him to deploy to Iraq with Task Force 449 as their Brigade Surgeon.
As the Brigade Surgeon for TF 449, Nelson is responsible for supervising the medical components of the task force, as well as advising the commander on the medical and clinical related issues in country. Nelson is also responsible for the health of aviators and flies with them to monitor the stress level of pilots.
"I truly enjoy the people in TF 449 and their spirit to get the mission done," said Nelson. "I enjoy working with people who have such pride in serving their country and am glad to say that I help to take care of America's heroes."
Nelson has served in the armed services on and off since 1970. During his time in the Army Reserves, he spent time in Southeast Asia with special operations and civil affairs units and assisted with humanitarian missions.
As a civilian, Nelson has also developed a number of surgical devices and even started a company to develop one of them. After selling the company, he was freed up from obligations which would have prevented a further deployment.
"I have wanted to rejoin the army and do my part ever since 9/11, but could not because of my commitments to the investors in my company," said Nelson. "The sale allowed me to finally fulfill that desire to again serve my country."
For doctors with a military background such as Nelson's, he urges them to consider taking advantage of the 90 days program such as he did.
"It is very possible to close up shop for 90 days," says Nelson. "It's an unforgettable experience, and cannot be duplicated."