By Staff Sgt. Shejal PulivartiMay 15, 2017
N'DJAMENA, Chad -- It was just another ordinary day of practicing medicine in Dallas, Georgia, for Michael Shotwell until a U.S. Army recruiter walked in and changed everything.
Shotwell wanted to serve in the military when he was younger, but life took him down a different path: medical school, marriage, children, surgical residency, opening a private practice. He thought his time to be a Soldier had passed.
It wasn't until 2013 that he learned not only could he be a Soldier, but the Army was actually looking for people with his credentials. According to Shotwell, the recruiter said, "We can still use you now, we are short of general surgeons in the Reserve."
Within a few months, Shotwell took the oath of office and was commissioned into the U.S. Army Reserve as a major and assigned to the 75th Combat Support Hospital, 3rd Medical Command Deployment Support.
"The reason I joined is a sense of duty," he said. "There are a lot of people who made a lot of sacrifices and have done much more than I'll ever do and to be able to be a part of helping them and their families is satisfying."
Three years later, Shotwell, a husband and father to three, still maintains a private practice, is an Army Reserve Soldier and currently supporting U.S. Army Africa-led Medical Readiness Training Exercise in N'Djamena, Chad.
"I've had a great experience so far. I've not had the opportunity to come overseas and work in different countries so this experience as a whole has been great for me," said Shotwell. "To experience a difference culture, a different environment, and the experience to work alongside other surgeons and other members of the operating room to see how they get their jobs done has been valuable."
Shotwell is part of a 12-person medical team from U.S. Army Reserves participating in the annual combined military exercise that brings partner nations together. Col. Peter Ray, pediatric plastics and reconstructive surgeon and senior medical team lead said, "This is being performed by a Reserve unit and so these are civilians who volunteer for the military but then are able to experience an area on the other side of the world with a different culture in a way that without the military to facilitate, they wouldn't have that experience and they find this very valuable."
During the 18-day exercise, the small team of U.S. military medical professionals works alongside their Chadian counterparts to obtain real-world experience to develop a ready medical force able to function in an austere environment.
"I do believe exercises such as this are valuable. It puts me in an unfamiliar environment, which helps me adapt and prepare," said Shotwell. "One thing that I've particularly enjoyed working with the surgeon here is the wide range of procedures. There's been a lot of orthopedics, which I don't have the opportunity to participate in back home."
The Military Teaching Hospital where the exercise is being held has only one surgeon who must rely on different processes and equipment. "From a general surgery standpoint to see how the surgeon does things with somewhat limited resources, different instrumentation-that's valuable," Shotwell said.
The exercise helps prepare Soldiers professionally and personally.
"With me not having the experience...to have this opportunity is really a very good thing," said Shotwell. "Being away from home, being surrounded by troops and working towards a common goal. I think all of it will prepare me for my future deployment."
Shotwell is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan later this year.