The views expressed in this presentation do not represent the official policy or opinion of the United States Navy, Defense Health Agency, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.
The reserves are a vital component to the military that allow individuals to serve part time and close to home while maintaining their civilian jobs. These individuals provide essential augmentation for the active duty force and can deploy worldwide. When the topic of privilege of service was discussed, I was compelled to discuss this experience with a reserve neurosurgeon. While happy to talk, he preferred to remain anonymous, citing a theme within military circles of “Selfless Sacrifice.” This particular neurosurgeon had joined the reserves during his residency in the late 1980’s to honor his family’s tradition of serving in the military. The theme that a small percentage of families across the country continue to volunteer for military service has been dubbed the “warrior caste” and has received recent attention. After getting out of the reserves, the neurosurgeon served as a Red Cross volunteer at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany in 2005. After taking care of combat wounded soldiers, he felt compelled to come back into the reserves to “do more to help our service members.” This has led to more than a decade of service in multiple parts of the country and an eight-month deployment to Landstuhl Germany in 2014, where he served not only as a neurosurgeon but as the senior medical executive of the Naval Expeditionary Medical Unit.
When asked about his personal sacrifice for this reserve time, he deflects the attention and focuses on the effect it has on his family. “Sacrifices for my service are made more by my family than by me personally. Every service member’s family also serves and makes sacrifices to support the service member. The sacrifice made by my family overshadows my service. I could not serve without their support.”
The sacrifice, though, has been worth it. Reflecting on his “great life experiences” from his military service, he notes that the people he has met during his reserve career are the best part. “You get to meet service members from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, civilian contractors and foreign military members. Your worldview expands markedly and the international news holds deeper meaning.” From his time in the reserves, he also feels that he has become a better leader. “The military has taught me how to lead people. They simply excel at teaching leadership. No one does it better.” By taking advantage of educational opportunities through the Naval War College, he has achieved “a free, fantastic education covering history, U.S. Security policy, diplomacy and operational thinking. Understanding the United States’ role in supporting human rights, freedom and world peace makes me extremely proud of our nation.” These sentiments fit well with an unpublished survey that found that 75 percent of current reserve neurosurgeons were pleased with their military service, with feelings of patriotism (86.7 percent), camaraderie (66.7 percent) and pride in taking care of the military patients (93.8 percent).1
When asked what he would like to share with other neurosurgeons about being in the reserves he states, “I would encourage any neurosurgeon to serve if Selfless Sacrifice, the motto of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, holds deep meaning. Your service is not about yourself, it’s about your compatriots, your shipmates and your nation. The Navy will make you a better physician, better leader and better person if you choose to learn what the Navy teaches. It is a great privilege to wear the uniform of the greatest Navy in the history of the world.”