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 since 1970, with a break in service from 1972-1984. During his time in the Army Reserves, Nelson spent the majority of his deployments in Southeast Asia with special operations and civil affairs units and assisted with humanitarian missions.
It was on one of these humanitarian missions in 1994 in Haiti that Nelson started a medical technician school to assist with the ongoing problems of medical equipment breaking down without anyone being able to repair them.
"I wanted to be able to leave a long term difference," said Nelson, a Los Altos Hills, Calif. resident. "A lot of the countries receive donations of medical equipment and can only use it once because when it breaks down, no one knows how to fix it."
Nelson also helped to repair infrastructures and assisted with sanitation and medical issues in Southeast Asia.
"One of my biggest goals was to make sure that we not only helped while we were there, but we also wanted to make sure they continued to benefit from our efforts after our departure," said Nelson.
Nelson attended Yale Medical School and completed his surgical training at Stanford University Medical School, where he currently serves on the clinical faculty.
Having served 22 years in the military, Nelson has seen quite a few changes in the military, as well as some things that have stayed the same.
"The biggest change is technology," said Nelson. "We have gone from being a carbon copy Army to a technological military."
"However, the people are still the same," said Nelson. "Most importantly, the pride and dedication are still the same, and Soldiers are still the best people I have worked with, bar none."
In addition to Nelson's private practice, Nelson also has several patents on surgical devices that he invented and started a company to develop one of them. This company was sold about five months before his deployment and freed him up from any obligations that originally prevented him from deploying.
"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."